Relatives of Woman Shot by Minneapolis Police Want Changes

Justine Damond, 40, was a meditation teacher and life coach who was set to be married in August

The family of an Australian woman shot dead by a Minneapolis police officer wants changes in police protocols, including a look at how often officers are required to turn on their body cameras, a family attorney told local media.

Other police shootings around the U.S. — particularly the killings of black men by police officers — led to calls for changes that included everything from bias training for officers to upgraded technology. Sometimes those changes have been initiated by departments themselves; sometimes they have been ordered by the federal government or through a lawsuit.

In the most recent Minneapolis case, Officer Mohamed Noor shot Justine Damond, a white 40-year-old life coach, once through the window of his police vehicle after she approached the car, minutes after she called 911 to report a possible rape. Noor's partner told state investigators he had been startled by a loud noise right before the shooting. Noor, who is Somali-American, has declined to be interviewed.

An attorney for Damond's family, Robert Bennett, told Minneapolis television station WCCO that the family is in disbelief. He said the Australian woman was no threat, and any notion that the officers feared an ambush is "ludicrous."

Authorities said neither officer had turned on his body camera. Bennett, who helped the family of black motorist Philando Castile reach a nearly $3 million settlement after he was killed by a suburban police officer last summer, said the Minneapolis department's body camera policy, and how often the cameras are turned on, are among issues the family wants examined.

Minneapolis police have said they already were reviewing their body camera policy before Damond's death. Assistant Chief Medaria Arradondo said police will soon release changes to body camera requirements, without elaborating. Arradondo said supervisors would work with patrol officers to ensure the cameras are activated more frequently.

In a blog post Thursday, Mayor Betsy Hodges said low use of body cameras is "not acceptable," and said she expects officers to activate them the moment they begin responding to any call. She also said she would push for an immediate audit of the program.

Joseph Schafer, a criminology and criminal justice professor at Southern Illinois University, said calls for changes are common after critical events such as police shootings.

"The challenge can be that a single incident, while horribly tragic and unfortunate ... doesn't necessarily establish there is a systemic problem that needs to be fixed," Schafer said, adding that changes may not always prevent future mistakes.

He said other shootings have prompted changes in many areas, including communication between dispatch and officers, training on use of force or other tactics, and in the equipment officers are given.

Cara Rabe-Hemp, criminal justice professor at Illinois State University, said changes in Minneapolis could include updating the types of calls in which officers are required to turn on cameras or changing how citizens participate in the civilian review process.

Minnesota created a $12 million police training fund after the shootings of Castile and another black man, Jamar Clark. The Legislature also approved $35 million in programs meant to reduce long-standing economic disparities between black and white residents, which Black Lives Matter and other organizations targeted as a root problem behind tension with police.

In Castile's case, Minnesota's governor and family members called for a federal investigation, and residents called for changes during city meetings. In the end, there was no federal civil rights investigation into Officer Jeronimo Yanez, but the city of St. Anthony requested a voluntary review by the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. That review is looking at traffic stops, recruitment practices and how the department works with the community.

In Cleveland, the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice helped spur a Justice Department investigation and consent decree that led to a revised use-of-force policy. The black youth was playing outside with a replica gun that shoots nonlethal plastic pellets when a white officer shot him in 2014.

The revised policy requires officers to try de-escalation techniques, such as taking cover, to avoid using force.

The department's previous policy allowed officers to use force, including firearms, if they determined it was "objectively reasonable," meaning it's something an average officer would do. The new policy says force must be necessary and "proportional" to the threat. It also requires officers to give first aid, something Tamir didn't get until other responders arrived about four minutes later.

In Milwaukee, the Justice Department's COPS program in 2015 laid out the broad strokes of a plan for the police force as part of a voluntary review that's still underway. That followed the death of Dontre Hamilton, a mentally ill black man who had been sleeping in a downtown park when an officer shot him 14 times in 2014. The review is looking at police use of force, racial disparities, community engagement and mass demonstrations.

The COPS program also has agreed to review the policies of North Charleston, South Carolina, after the 2015 fatal shooting of Walter Scott. The review will examine how the department could improve its relationship with residents and its policing strategies.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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