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2014: The year of solidarity and tension between Minnesotans and the police

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This is the last in a series of five posts discussing 2014’s most impactful stories in Minnesota. It’s a look at where we were, what we went through, and where we find ourselves now – with a glimpse at what to expect in 2015. Scroll down the BringMeTheNews Web page for previous installments in the series. 

The year 2014 brought poignant signs of solidarity between Minnesotans and the law enforcement officers who serve them.

It also brought fresh expressions of doubt about the even-handedness of law enforcement across lines of race and class. And – in the state's largest department – it brought renewed tensions between police precincts, City Hall, and neighborhood groups.

Officer Scott Patrick's Shooting

Police officers make lots of traffic stops. But one turned deadly in West St. Paul on July 30, when Mendota Heights officer Scott Patrick (right) was fatally shot after pulling over a driver.

Patrick's killing was followed by a manhunt culminating in a St. Paul shootout and the arrest of Brian Fitch Sr., a convicted burglar wanted for violating his parole.

Patrick's death generated an outpouring of public support, with thousands – law enforcement officers and civilians, alike – attending his memorial service and lining the route of the funeral procession.

Conversely, a judge ruled this month that Fitch is so vilified by Dakota County residents that seating an impartial jury there for his murder trial would be nearly impossible. The trial was moved to St. Cloud, where it is scheduled to begin on Jan. 10.

Minneapolis, Chief Harteau, and #pointergate

In Minneapolis, 2014 dawned with Police Chief Janeé Harteau working to improve the department's reputation, particularly among communities of color, following racially charged incidents in 2013.

A new incident in July – the arrest of community activist Al Flowers – led Harteau to embark on a series of listening sessions with neighborhood groups. But that hit a snag when the chief chose to skip one of the meetings, saying police critics threatened to physically disrupt the event.

Harteau resumed the meetings in October and was joined by first-year Mayor Betsy Hodges, who is also treading a fine line while seeking support from the community and the police department.

Hodges' challenge in trying to gain officer trust was perhaps most evident in November when KSTP reported on the concerns of police who said the mayor had been photographed flashing gang signs during a voter registration event that included a man with a criminal record.

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While KSTP's report was mocked around the country with the hashtag #pointergate, the episode underscored the mistrust between Minneapolis' police union and the mayor.

 Fallout after Ferguson, New York deaths

Finally, the reaction to grand jury decisions clearing white police officers in the deaths of unarmed African-Americans in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City swept through Minnesota.

A Dec. 4 demonstration in Minneapolis included a march that closed part of Interstate 35W, as protesters staged a "die-in." Protesters also organized a demonstration at the Mall of America on the last Saturday before Christmas that disrupted shopping.

Bloomington's city attorney told MPR News last week criminal charges are in the works to "make an example" of the protest's organizers.

Those may well come in the first week of a new year that promises to bring new twists in the unfolding relationship Minnesotans – and Americans – have with their police officers.

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