Humphrey School Graduate Works to Shape Community-Police Relations
The past 18 months may likely be remembered as a time in U.S. history when relations between law enforcement and communities of color came to a head. The cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Harris in Tulsa, and Jamar Clark in Minneapolis are among a string of incidents which have forced difficult questions about trust and bias, prompted protest, and aroused anger and frustration between police and community.
But amid the turmoil, Humphrey School of Public Affairs alumnus Barry Shaul (MA ’93) sees a silver lining. The new president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Foundation (MCPF) says, “Now is the time for us to really affect change.”
A former street cop turned special agent with the U.S. Department of State who now works at General Mills, Shaul sees the events of 2014−2015 as a catalyst for the kind of dialogue and policy change that prove transformative.
He hopes to begin that process through the MCPF, “I believe that with the proper programs, policies and procedures, with the right funding and training, we can avert the Fergusons.”
“Not training for training’s sake,” he emphasizes. “Are we actually going to do institution-changing training that’s going to modify the behavior of my officer?”
However, as a biracial man who identifies as black (“That’s how America sees me,” he explains), Shaul is not looking at the issue simply through the lens of law enforcement, “I have a unique perspective.”
“I know what it’s like to have contact with law enforcement and be treated differently than my white friends. But I’ve also been the police officer who pulled you over. And once you’re a street cop, you’re always a street cop. So how can I help my brothers and sisters in law enforcement? At the same time, how can we address the very real concerns of the community?”
Shaul emphasizes open dialogue and a concrete approach. “Let’s talk about the issues at hand while it’s at the forefront and come up with true, pragmatic solutions.”
This tendency towards practicality and the long-haul view he says was forged at the Humphrey School. “This is a school that trains people who want to affect the community. I came here because it was a place of substance that was building the next generation of civic leaders for the community. I came here to learn what that takes.”
He credits his one-time professor and current-day mentor, Roy Wilkins Professor of Human Relations and Social Justice Samuel L. Myers, Jr., with cultivating his outlook. “I was a passionate young man, and he helped me develop a more strategic mindset, and he told me, ‘With your passion you also need to have metrics. Show me analysis and metrics—that’s what gets you heard by stakeholders.’ To this day, I reach out to him.”
Shaul knows that tackling police-community relations will indeed require passion and practicality; however, most of all he hopes for patience from all parties. “That’s the hardest thing, that there’s a long trajectory to see the fruits of our labor. And that doesn’t make the news.”
“There’s not much of a choice, though,” he says. “Now is the time to act, there is a lot that we can learn, we have the opportunity to have the dialogue, let’s use it. If we don’t take advantage of this, if we do nothing but shout [at each other], five years from now are we going to be surprised at where we are? People will say they are, but in reality all you’ll be able to say is we’re disappointed because we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity at hand.”