The Minneapolis Police Department is graduating its first all-Somali class from a youth citizens academy this afternoon.
It’s an interesting twist, given that a lot of young people in the Cedar-Riverside area have complained about police harassment. The concerns seemed to escalate once the police added more beat officers to the neighborhood and stepped up enforcement.
The idea for the academy came from youth workers at the Brian Coyle Community Center, who sensed a need for better outreach between the kids and the cops, says Officer Jeanine Brudenell, the Somali liaison for Minneapolis police.
“The kids that are in there are really good kids,”Brudenell says. “They’re all kids from the neighborhood. And some of them were very vocal kids about being harassed.”
Brudenell says the students learned about the challenges of being an officer through role-playing exercises: The teens played the part of the arresting officers during a traffic stop, and the cops were the ones getting pulled over. In another exercise, the kids pretended to protect a crime scene and had to deal with trespassers.
Brudenell emailed me the photo above of Chala Ahmed, right, checking out a T3 trike used by downtown beat officers with fellow academy participant Salah Ali last week. The 12 teens who completed the program will receive credit toward their high school government graduation requirement.
Will these efforts pay off in bridging the divide between police and the Somali-American community? Will any of the young graduates become future officers?
As it now stands, there are three sworn Somali-American officers with MPD and one civilian crime-prevention specialist.