Eden Prairie should build on the anti-bias and de-escalation training its police officers and firefighters currently receive, according to a Race Equity Report prepared by the Eden Prairie Human Rights and Diversity Commission.
That and other recommendations presented to and endorsed by the city council on Tuesday, Jan. 4, are meant to tackle racism and other inequities that may have grown as Eden Prairie has become more diverse over the last three decades.
The report also recommends work to make city staff and leadership more diverse and city programs more inclusive.
The idea of looking at race equity in Eden Prairie resulted from the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.
Mayor Ron Case, speaking at a forum organized by Pax Christi Catholic Community last November, said he felt there needed to be more community conversation about systemic racism, and that the conversation needed to capture the voices of people of color.
“I just brought it to the council and they jumped on it,” he said about the city’s decision to move ahead with the study.
The assignment was given to the city’s Human Rights and Diversity Commission, which in turn used DeYoung Consulting Services to help carry out interviews with stakeholders, including community members from under-represented groups, and to conduct focus groups, listening sessions, an online survey and write the report, which cost $50,000 to prepare.
While participants consistently viewed Eden Prairie as a safe community, and one where city officials and staff support community members, they said the city hasn’t always delivered on promises to address racial disparities.
Participants further said that diversity in the city staff and leadership doesn’t match what exists in the greater population of Eden Prairie.
Many of those interviewed, said Commissioner Sana Elassar, spoke of a “wealth gap” in Eden Prairie that can create financial barriers to participation.
In fact, diversity is on the increase in Eden Prairie. In 1990, nearly 96 percent of Eden Prairie residents were white. Thirty years later, white residents are 70 percent of the city’s population.
Census data from 2020 indicates that 13.86 percent of residents identify as Asian, 7.15 percent identify as Black, and 4.63 percent identify as Hispanic/Latino. Another 4.16 percent identify as more than one race.
The school district is even more diverse: 54 percent of the 8,600 students enrolled last year were white.
The Race Equity Report delves into the city’s emergency response role, accessibility to city programs and services, the city’s own hiring and recruiting practices, residents’ experiences with the city, and how to develop future leaders.
The report also looks at the City of Eden Prairie both as an employer and in its dealings with citizens. Many of the recommendations have to do with recruiting and hiring practices to make the city staff more diverse. Recommendations focusing on the city’s dealings with citizens, in addition to more de-escalation training for police and fire staffs, include:
- Ensuring that everyone has equitable access to city services, programs, and activities, including limited-English and non-English speaking residents.
- Devoting more resources to promoting block parties and community events that gather residents of different cultures.
- And, partnering with Eden Prairie Schools in developing future leaders, including through internships, summer employment, and career opportunities.
Eden Prairie Police Department training in de-escalation and similar techniques already exceeds the amount required by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), an administrative body of the State of Minnesota that sets regulations and controls the training and licensing of police officers.
Locally, all officers take at least 40 hours of what is called “crisis-intervention training” and an eight-hour refresher course every two years, according to Police Chief Matt Sackett.
But, Sackett this week said the department is ready to add more, as recommended by the report.
“I don’t think we could ever have too much training or talking to people about de-escalation,” he said.
The commission intends to follow up on the report, requiring city staff to review the recommendations and come up with an “initial implementation plan” within six months and then semi-annual progress reports to the commission.
Mayor Ron Case said that follow-up is critical.
“We don’t want this to be a report that gets filed somewhere,” he said Tuesday. “I want it to be the beginning of ‘What do we do now?’ and ‘Where do we go from here?’”
Greg Leeper, who chairs the commission, said residents shouldn’t view the report as critical of Eden Prairie’s past work in race equity. If a community wants to grow, he explained, it needs to be committed to continuous improvement.
“You don’t have to necessarily be bad to get better,” he said.
Mark Weber is executive director of the Eden Prairie Community Foundation and a regular contributor to EPLN.