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Bill looks to develop relationships between Somali youth, officers

Faribault Daily News
Tuesday March 14, 2017

Rep. Brian Daniels, R- Faribault, addresses his constituents at a town hall on Saturday morning in Faribualt. (Gunnar Olson/Daily News)

At a town hall meeting Saturday morning, Rep. Brian Daniels, R-Faribault, spoke about a bill he is authoring to encourage police departments statewide to engage with youth in Somali communities.

The bill, which he intends to present in St. Paul on Wednesday, gives municipal police departments grant funding to cover officers’ overtime when they spend time connecting with Somali youth, in an effort to combat terrorist recruitment in Minnesota.

“I think it’s a great idea and it’s not costly,” said Daniels in an interview after the town hall meeting where he presented the idea to his constituents.

Daniels said that Faribault has already taken advantage of the grant program that allotted $120,000 to the Faribault Police Department and the Faribault Diversity Coalition.

“It’s allowed my officers to work with the Faribault Diversity Coalition to connect kids with cops,” said Faribault’s Police Chief Andy Bohlen. “Whether it’s the ropes course at Shattuck-St. Mary’s or basketball at the Community Center, it’s been nothing but a positive experience with the officers connecting with kids.”

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In addition to Friday night basketball and the SSM ropes course, the grant funding went toward taking some kids to a Twins game last summer, toward English as a Second Language classes for Somali parents and two community Eid celebrations to allow children to celebrate the Muslim holiday at North Alexander Park.

When Faribault first received the grant money in June of last year, Bohlen reached out to Somali community representatives to get their perspective on the matter. The feedback he received was not all positive, however.

Bohlen found that some feared the program was a device to spy on people, which he assured them it was not. He told them he hoped the grant would help “positively highlight the Somali youth and diverse youth in the community.”

Carolyn Treadway is the program director for the Faribault grant and is also the executive director of So How Are the Children, which serves diverse, young people in the city. Treadway helped write the grant, which required significant research on how to prevent radicalization of youth.

“The way to keep young people from being radicalized or recruited into a terrorist path is to develop their assets and strengths to connect them to the community to make them feel welcome and avoid isolation,” said Treadway. “Those are the kinds of programs that have been started in Faribault so that the young people as well as their parents can have the skills and the confidence to feel as though they can succeed in Faribault.”

Treadway’s implementation of the program encourages engagement in the Faribault community, which aligns with Daniels’ plan as well.

“Our cultures are a little bit different,” said Daniels of why the program is important in a place like Faribault and across the state. “I don’t have a problem with any of them. I just think it’s helping them get used to our culture as we have for theirs. I’m looking for ways to help them do that.”

Targeting the Somali community specifically, Daniels hopes that “building good relationships” with the youth is a positive step in combating recruitment to groups like ISIS and al-Shabaab.

His work on the grant program is not done yet, however. Daniels said he will attempt to change the name of the bill, which he said is “horrible.”

Currently, the bill is called the “Anti-Terrorism Bill.” After Bohlen’s consultations with the Somali community about the bill, he informed Daniels that Faribault’s Somali community found the name offensive.

“The name of the bill itself got people very upset and it fragmented the Somali community a little bit,” said Bohlen of the initial reaction. “I’m not a fan of the name. It created some divisiveness when it came out.”

Seeing the name as a “source of tension,” Bohlen urged Daniels to make the change. Daniels said he will do what he can to change the title of the bill, hoping to call it “Connecting with Kids” instead.

“Our approach is not about countering terrorism,” said Treadway of the misleading title of the bill. “It’s about building strengths in youth and their families.”

Currently, the Faribault Police Department still has some of the grant dollars left from the previous issuance, with the 13-month grant set to end in June.

As for why there are still funds available, Bohlen pointed to being short-staffed as a reason officers weren’t taking advantage of the overtime.

According to Treadway, officers routinely show up on Friday nights to play basketball with between 40 and 45 kids per week.

When the grant was proposed early last year, Faribault was chosen as a community that could benefit from it. With the help of the Faribault Diversity Coalition, Faribault proved to be an ideal candidate.

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