LAUDERDALE, Minn. (CN) – The U.S. Justice Department heard stirring remarks from the public Wednesday night in the last of three meetings to take in criticism of a Minnesota police department following last summer’s traffic-stop shooting of Philando Castile.
The Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, held three community listening sessions over the past week as part of a comprehensive assessment of the St. Anthony Police Department's policies and practices.
The police department was deeply criticized nationwide over the July 2016 fatal shooting of Castile, which was captured on live video by Diamond Reynolds, who was a passenger in the stopped car along with her 4-year-old daughter in the backseat.
The first two meetings were held in St. Anthony and Falcon Heights on Monday and Tuesday nights, respectively. The DOJ hosted its last meeting on Wednesday in the city of Lauderdale, which is also served by the St. Anthony Police Department.
In the city hall, Dawn Bartylla, 56, spoke to Courthouse News before the meeting began, and said her overall opinion of the police department was "extremely good." Bartylla says she worked as a police dispatcher in the past and knows folks from the St. Anthony Police Department.
"People need to think about all the times people don't get shot other than these seriously crazy situations," she said. "The public needs to understand that [police] are ordinary people just like us, and some make mistakes and I'm not sure if I could contain myself in that situation.”
According to Bartylla, there's been talk among the Lauderdale community about proposals to get rid of the St. Anthony Police Department. But Bartylla says there is "no guarantee" that the problem will go away with a new police force.
"Why not work with the entity you have and try to make it better?" she asked.
Lauderdale is surrounded by Minneapolis, St. Paul, Roseville and Falcon Heights. Though it's just minutes away from Minneapolis, the city has a small-town feel with only about 2,300 residents.
Bartylla says it's a "good place to raise a family and grow up." She was raised in Lauderdale and has lived in the city her entire adult life.
But Bartylla says policing has changed in Lauderdale since she was a child – after the city cut its police force due to budget restraints.
Since that decision, she says Lauderdale has also had policing contracts with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department and the city of Roseville.
"When we switched to the [St. Anthony Police Department] they made their presence known,” she said.
Bartylla says St. Anthony police have been" personable," and the fatal shooting of Castile was "an anomaly."
The 120 seats assembled in the meeting hall quickly filled by the time it started, making the room packed full with a hodgepodge of people not only from Lauderdale, but nearby cities too.
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Two microphones were placed at both sides of the room, while DOJ representatives sat at a long rectangular table in front.
A woman named Nancy stood in front of a microphone and urged the agency to take the "group seriously." She blatantly told listeners that she is of Scandinavian descent – "and so white" she wears "5,000 SPF during the summer," drawing a few chuckles from the audience.