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The ABCs of the BCA: A look at the agency investigating the Justine Damond shooting

The agency is often called in to investigate officer-involved shootings, but it has many other duties.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is part of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, is a state agency that works with law enforcement agencies across the state to prevent and solve crimes.

Once again, with the shooting death of Minneapolis resident Justine Damond by a police officer last weekend, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called upon to investigate the case of an officer-involved shooting.

The BCA is ever-present in the news cycle in cases like this, looking into the facts of officer-involved shooting deaths like Jamar Clark’s in Minneapolis in 2015; Philando Castile’s in St. Anthony last year, and now, Damond’s.

As they wait for answers about what happened that night, some of our readers are wondering: what is the BCA and what, exactly, does it do? Here’s a quick primer.

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What is the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension?

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is part of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, is a state agency that works with law enforcement agencies across the state to prevent and solve crimes. It was created in 1927.

Drew Evans, appointed by Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman, has been the superintendent of the BCA since 2015. Previously, he was the assistant superintendent. He also worked in the BCA’s investigations unit, and before that, worked as a police officer and investigator in White Bear Lake.

How many people work there? What kinds of jobs do they do?

The BCA employs more than 300 people across its St. Paul headquarters, a regional office in Bemidji and 11 field offices in Alexandria, Brainerd, Duluth, Grand Rapids, Mankato, Marshall, Moorhead, Rochester, Roseau, St. Cloud and Willmar.  They work in:

  • The investigations unit, which employs more than 80, conducts investigations and assists local law enforcement agencies to solve crimes.

  • The administrative services division oversees training of law enforcement, and administers programs.

  • Forensics. The BCA has the only full-service, accredited crime lab in Minnesota. It does crime scene processing and DNA testing, among other functions.

  • The justice information services division helps law enforcement agencies more easily exchange and access data.

What kinds of cases does BCA investigate?

At the request of local law enforcement agencies, the BCA investigates officer-involved shootings. Investigations may be requested when officers try to use deadly force or when police intentionally use force that leads to serious injury or death.

We’ve heard a lot about those lately, but that’s certainly not all the agency does. The BCA also deals with cold cases, missing and abducted persons, crime scenes, death, narcotics and predatory offenders. That’s not all, though. They sometimes get involved at the request of law enforcement agencies. St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell asked the BCA to investigate, for example, allegations of bribery solicitation by St. Paul city council member Dai Thao’s mayoral camapign. Since Thao is on the City Council, Axtell cited wanting to avoid any conflicts of interest in investigating the case (the BCA completed the investigation and turned it over to the Scott County attorney, because Thao’s campaign manager works for the Ramsey County attorney, in June).

In addition to cases involving potential conflicts of interest, the BCA can assist local police agencies in cases requiring specialized technical or investigative skills.

How many cases does the BCA typically investigate in a year?

Bureau investigators work on about 700 cases every year. They have investigated 104 of the 147 officer-involved shootings that resulted in injury or death reported to the BCA since 2009.

What do BCA investigations involve?

The BCA collects and reviews evidence, does forensic testing and interviews those involved and witnesses. The BCA’s investigation is independent of a local law enforcement agency’s, which can’t dictate its direction.

As in the case of Mohamed Noor, the police officer who shot Damond and who has declined to be interviewed by the BCA about the shooting, the BCA doesn’t have the authority to compel testimony.

How long does it typically take for the BCA to complete an investigation?

It can take months. In the officer-involved shooting that resulted in Philando Castile’s death in Falcon Heights in July of last year, it took until September for the BCA to finish its investigation. It took three months to investigate the death of Jamar Clark, who was shot by a Minneapolis Police Officer. In the case of a deadly Eden Prairie officer-involved shooting on Highway 212 in 2014, it took nearly four months for the results of the investigation to be completed.

Minneapolis officials have asked that the investigation be conducted as quickly as possible. On Tuesday night, the BCA noted that it “understands the urgency of [the Damond] case and is proceeding as rapidly as possible without compromising the integrity of the investigation.” The agency isn’t allowed to discuss investigations that are in progress.

What happens after the BCA completes its investigations?

The investigation is handed over to the local county attorney, who uses it to determine whether or not to bring charges in the case. Sometimes, the county attorney asks for additional information after the investigation has been turned over. The BCA’s investigation only serves as an independent look at just what happened, it doesn’t make recommendations about whether or not to bring charges. In the case of Damond’s death, it also won’t determine whether or not the department’s body camera policy, or other policies were violated.

Are BCA investigations always made public?

Once the investigation is done and any court cases have wrapped up, some information becomes public. In the Castile case, thousands of pages of the case file and dashcam footage was released June 21, a few days after a jury acquitted St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez of all charges.

For more information about investigations surrounding the shooting of Damond:

Minneapolis Police Department web portal for information on Damond case, which includes incident reports, employee complaints and 911 call transcripts. According to the city, the site will be updated as additional information becomes available.