St. Paul police screen 'Zootopia' as part of anti-bias training

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More than 800 employees of the St. Paul Police Department recent went through their annual equity training.

This year, they turned to an animated movie from Hollywood to talk about some serious issues they face every day.

Zootopia, which was released last year, won an Oscar for its handling of subjects like prejudice and bias. Now the animated metaphor for race relations could help police in the real world see those same issues in a new light.

The movie was the main attraction during the departments recent equity training exercise.

Sgt. Amanda Heu came up with the idea while watching it with her daughter and realized the themes in the film, which is about a rabbit who moves to the big city to become a police officer, are some of the same issues officers deal with on a daily basis.

"When you see the story, it has bias and prejudice woven throughout. Some of it is law enforcement related but some not law enforcement related. It examines bias through a completely different lens," Sgt. Heu said.

Sgt. Heu says scenes like the one where one of the main characters, Nick Wilde, recalls how he was discriminated against as a child, show how stereotypes can have long lasting consequences.

"If the world is only going to see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there's no point in trying to be anything else," the animated character says at one point in the film.

"That was one of the most profound moments to us, because it boiled down the psychological construct that perpetuates discrimination and prejudice in America," Sgt. Hue said.

Using the cartoon also made it easier for officers talk about and relate to the subject matter, both on the job and off.

"What was cool was so many officers have seen the movie so many times and they never saw the parallels with real life, policing, the internal issues we deal with and the external," Ofc. Colleen Rooney said.

"Because there was not one human character, you could learn from it without being judged or feeling like they were putting it on you," Sgt. Deanna Fink said.

Sgt. Heu says the Zootopia bias training was such a hit that the police chief is looking at sharing it with other city departments and community groups around St. Paul.