After protests, people are taking a hard look at Target's partnerships with police

Target has enjoyed a longstanding, mutually beneficial partnership with law enforcement. After recent protests over police brutality, that's coming into question.

Target has enjoyed a longstanding, mutually beneficial partnership with law enforcement. After recent protests over police brutality, that's coming into question. Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Shortly after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, protesters (and seemingly unaffiliated opportunistic others) took to the Lake Street Target and absolutely looted the hell out of it.

Clips of people darting in and out of the store with flatscreens and vacuums bounced around the internet. Alarms blared. Glass shattered. Tipped-over shopping carts littered the sidewalks. The company closed the Lake Street store “until further notice.”

But now, the dust has settled, and Minneapolis, along with other cities across the country, is reevaluating its relationship with law enforcement and its deleterious effects on its most disenfranchised communities, particularly people of color. The University of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Parks Board, and Minneapolis Public Schools have already severed many ties with the police, and the City Council has discussed disbanding the department altogether.

But what about Target?

As more and more people have pointed out since the protests, the Minneapolis-based company has enjoyed a longstanding, mutually beneficial partnership with the police.

Back in 2004, Slate reports, the company piloted the SafeZone program (part of the Safe City program), which amounted to footing the $300,000 bill to buy the city a new CCTV surveillance system over the downtown area.

“The genesis of the program was a widespread feeling some years ago in the city of Minneapolis that the downtown business district was not a pleasant place to work or visit,” a 2010 Police Executive Research Forum report on the project says. “Panhandlers, people drinking alcohol on the street, and other ‘lifestyle offenders’ roamed the streets. Even though there was relatively little violent crime in the downtown area, people tended to not feel safe or comfortable there.”

The SafeZone program was so popular with police and local businesses that it became its own nonprofit in 2006, and then-Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak announced plans to expand it to Cedar-Riverside and West Broadway. According to the report, Target and its partners have repeated the project in more than 20 other cities across the United States.

Then there’s the Target Forensic Services Laboratory: a high-end, accredited forensic investigation lab in Minneapolis that the company lends to law enforcement officials for free as part of a “commitment” to the police department and the community, according to a 2011 feature by MPR. Services include fingerprint, video, and audio analysis. It was a boon, experts said, to have such a deep-pocketed company willing to fill this niche as police budgets declined.

Vox's Recode vertical recently dug into Target’s "cozy programs with cops" and found other forays into crime-stopping that included some briefly used facial recognition software. The company said it was deployed to “understand its ability to help prevent fraud and theft,” according to a statement to Recode. This program was discontinued in 2018.

What will Target's relationship with police look like moving forward?

In response to City Pages' interview requests, a Target spokesperson sent the following statement:

"In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, critical questions are being asked about police reform – and Target is taking action to be part of the change. We’ve long partnered with law enforcement to keep our team and guests safe, but we also share the grave concerns expressed about policing and the role it plays in systemic racism and the lack of trust in our country’s law enforcement departments.

"Our first step is signing the Minnesota Business Partnership pledge calling for state lawmakers to adopt reform that addresses police misconduct and accountability. Additionally, we are actively examining our partnerships with law enforcement and determining what role Target will play in creating lasting change."