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New police liaison position aims to transform RPD and community

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) -- Pastor Andre Crockett knows what it feels like first hand.

"We got pulled over. And what we got when we got pulled over; it was like five, six, seven or eight, you can imagine. I couldn't name all the police cars. We was at gunpoint and I was face down on the concrete," Crockett said, describing a moment in his younger years getting pulled over by Baltimore police for speeding. "Only thing that's going through my mind is that, perhaps, I'm going to be another statistic. Going through an experience like that, I really understand what it means to not know if you're going to come home or live."

It's that life experience -- and the events that played out in Minneapolis last summer -- that inspired Crockett to do more.

"I wanna make sure that never happens to anyone else," he added.

Crockett came up with an idea: a community liaison to act as a bridge between the Rochester Police Department and the Black community. Crockett leads several non profits, including Sports Mentorship Academy. It's the kids he coaches who stir his motivation -- and the fact that he could've been George Floyd.

"I don't want them to grow up and be a George Floyd," Crocket said. "I want them to grow up and see a different society, so they don't see police officers as nemesis and enemies but they can see them as friends and not foes."

Mayo Clinic announced a $70,000 donation to different organizations working towards advancing racial equity. Now, about $15,000 of that money is going towards Crockett's mission.

"It's really meant to get us down to the ground level and really start having hard conversations," Community Service Division Capt. Jeff Stilwell said. "And building relationships in some of the areas hardest to build relationships."

Crockett believes that's within the Black community -- but the goal is to start with a targeted group and then expand.

"This community liaison is not just for African Americans, we want to go across the board that reaches refugees and immigrants," Crockett said. "But I believe that we need to start with African Americans because if you look at the statistics, we are being impacted more than any other ethnic group in our whole country."

As it turns out -- RPD saw the need for a program like this too. Capt. Stillwell said discussions started when Chief Jim Franklin took office; what exactly it would look like, RPD didn't know. It wasn't until discussions with Crockett started a few months ago that the vision became clearer.

"We are better together but you have to work to understand why things are the way that they are," Capt. Stilwell said.

It's a small step, but an important one towards change.

"We are committed to building our trust first and rolling this out in a bigger sense," Capt. Stilwell said. "We believe this will be transformative in this department and community for years to come."

"It's going to have a tremendous impact on our community. Not just our community, but the way that police officers and people of color interact together," Crockett said.

Crockett and his partners at RPD aim to have the liaison program up and running by Feb. 1. With enough funding, the hope is to have the position be full time.

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Beret Leone

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