In 2016, 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer while driving through the city of Falcon Heights, and recently the city has begun to take the necessary steps to prevent this tragedy again. However, instead of implementing only new rules and regulations on the officers, they are going a step further: they are ending their contract.
Falcon Heights, Minnesota is a suburb of St. Paul, and thus does not have their own police department. Instead, they hold a contract with another city, St. Anthony, whose police have worked to protect and serve both cities for around 20 years. They have a rich, long-lasting relationship that has withstood the change of time, but now that relationship has come to an end. The city is “considering its options”, and is planning to cut ties with St. Anthony and choose a new source of officers. This is all in response to the death of Philando Castile, when the residents of Falcon Heights were outraged by the latency of responses to the shooting and punishment of the officer.
Another key issue that arose was payment due to the St. Anthony Police Department for their services in the area. Their recent surprise change to the contract, a resolution the Falcon Heights City Council was unprepared for, was for Falcon Heights to “assume liability for policing its borders”, meaning that the taxpayers of that city would pay for the use of police from another city, including any problems or fines that may arise (manpower, weapons, and unlawful deaths). What made this a big deal was not only the timing, but also that St. Anthony holds contracts with other areas, but does not have the same resolution beholden to them as well. It is all in response to the shooting. Those in charge are upset about this for many reasons, including that Falcon Heights has no control over the hiring or training of officers or even control over discipline. The change was unwarranted, and grossly unfair.
Now, what did Philando Castile do? He was pulled over, warned an officer that he was armed and had a license to carry, and while proceeding to reach into his glove box to retrieve the required documents was shot several times by the police officer. In a time where police and their policies of community policing and arrests are under heavy scrutiny, this incredibly fast and violent reaction was not the best route to go. This kind of behavior, this kind of problem, is one of many being faced across our nation and helping to besmirch the value we all once held for law enforcement. However, Falcon Heights is different from other places because they can take the one drastic step others cannot: They can cut off the offending police department and look elsewhere for safety and assistance.
This kind of reaction is a powerful gut-check to not only local law enforcement in this area, but across the country. It shows that the police will be held accountable for their actions, and though many of the City Council are claiming it is not due to abilities of St. Anthony’s officers, it is very obvious to be either the main or at least contributing reason. It is a warning that citizens of communities will no longer stand by and allow these kinds of acts be performed in their neighborhoods, especially by officers from outside their city. They won’t protest or riot in their homes to get this change done, however, because that would only hurt them more. Instead, they go to those in power, in charge, and convince them to change.
Though they have not gotten severed their connection to St. Anthony’s police, the council has plans to “send letters to several area police departments to gauge their interest”, or test the waters of other police, in protecting and serving the people of Falcon Heights. These other departments will have the weight of the transgressions of St. Anthony to deal with, and will grow stronger from it. They will be wary, they will be wise, and they will be more efficient.
Having this kind of power without destroying a city in demonstrations of anger shows the true power of the people. It brings back the words “who watches the watchers”, and issues warning to the police. Civilians are showing themselves that through peaceful means their needs for change and restitution can be made possible, even if not directly stated for appearances’ sake. Who watches the watchers? The people do.