ST. PAUL — Minnesota law enforcement groups on Monday, May 10, said they were making changes at the local level to improve community relations and raised concerns about a set of proposed policing law changes put forth at the Statehouse.
The comments came as Minnesota lawmakers weigh accountability and transparency measures in the wake of police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center. Democratic legislators, led by the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, have put forth plans to require police agencies to share bodycam footage of violent incidents with family members, create citizen oversight boards, limit no-knock warrants and rein in the criteria for pulling over a driver in situations where they aren't endangering others.
GOP lawmakers who control the Senate and Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators who lead the House of Representatives have so far split on what changes ought to be made, with GOP lawmakers saying many changes that were approved in 2020 went far enough.
One week before the final day of the 2021 legislative session, law enforcement groups told lawmakers on a public safety and judiciary conference committee that police organizations were starting to make changes on their own, especially in how they deal with rooting out problem officers. And they said prior state-issued requirements had spurred unexpected problems.
“We are doing this together," Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Executive Director Brian Peters said, pointing to internal conversations about arbitration proceedings. "We’re not waiting for legislation, we’re not waiting for the next incident to happen so we are in a sense right now policing ourselves because that’s an important issue that we want to fix together."
Democratic lawmakers have proposed additional measures that would allow the state's police regulatory board to track instances of misconduct and pull an officer's license. And they said it was critical to put in place regulations statewide to ensure equitable policing across police agencies.
“The reason we’re back here is because more people have died in our streets with law enforcement interactions, that’s why we’re back here, that’s why this conversation is on the forefront again,” Rep. Cedrick Frazier, D-New Hope, said. "We can talk about how things are different in different areas of the state but what data has shown us consistently is that we have these disparities and they are centered around race around the state, no matter where you are in the state."
MORE FROM THE MINNESOTA CAPITOL: Minnesota COVID-19 restrictions to lift, disagreements remain over state's path forward
Police organization heads said they faced applicant shortages and increased instances of violent crime around the state along with interactions with people in mental health crisis. And though they faced some perception issues, they said the officers kept working to build trust in their communities.
"The vast majority of police officers are doing this job the right way for the right reasons," St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said.
The spokesmen for Minnesota Police Chiefs and Sheriffs also raised concerns about a law passed last year that changed the definition of the use of force to prioritize the sanctity of life. The new restrictions raised concerns for neighboring police agencies tapped to help respond in Minnesota communities.
Those groups also called on lawmakers to tweak the law out of concerns that it might be unconstitutional.
“We’ve heard from our neighbors in North Dakota and Wisconsin that they will no longer provide support to their Minnesota neighbors because of that language,” Anderson said.
Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie said the law "has sent a little bit of a shiver in our partners across the river in Wisconsin."