Police accountability through licensing, reforming cash bail and banning no-knock warrants were among the legislative priorities listed by Minnesota lawmakers and officials during a criminal justice forum Monday night.
The forum, hosted by the Minnesota Justice Research Center (MNJRC), a nonprofit focused on criminal justice reform policy, featured panelists House Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Rep. Kelly Moller, GOP lead on the committee Rep. Paul Novotny, Senate Public Safety Committee Vice Chair Clare Oumou-Verbeten and Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Paul Schell.
After winning a trifecta in November’s election, taking control of the Minnesota Senate while holding onto the House and the governor’s office, the DFL’s spending and policy priorities — public safety or otherwise — should face an easier path to law this legislative session.
The first of the efforts touted by lawmakers was House File 25, chief authored by DFL Rep. Cedrick Frazier of New Hope and scheduled for a hearing Thursday. The bill would fund more co-responder models where mental health professionals join police on calls, and increase funding for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to assist local agencies in investigating violent crimes. It’d also continue funding for the BCA unit that investigates police-involved shootings.
The largest portion of the legislation is a $150 million allocation for a community crime and violence prevention account, which would be doled out to local groups doing the work on the ground.
“This is for those organizations that are working to prevent violence in their communities,” Moller said. “These are things from victim services to homelessness, restorative justice programs, reentry programs, a full variety of things so that’s really the centerpiece of the bill.”
Asked about the progress of cash bail reform, the four panelists agreed the current system needs to be changed. Moller said the right to bail is in the state constitution, so figuring out how to change the system is the challenge, but one lawmaker is already working on it.
Novotny pointed to people who continue to get arrested for low-level and nonviolent offenses as evidence that the current system doesn’t work. Bail should be reserved for violent offenders who pose a threat to society if they’re released, he said.
“It doesn’t work for the most part and we need to save that for people that we are scared of, not the ones who we’re mad at,” he said. “Somebody that’s got an addiction problem, somebody that’s got a problem drinking, that’s somebody we should be mad at because we hope that they will change their behavior and not put anybody else at risk, as opposed to someone that uses violence and that’s the people we should be focusing our more punitive things on.”
The discussion featured support by the panelists for banning no-knock warrants, funding more restorative justice and juvenile diversion programs, and retroactively addressing harms disproportionately perpetuated by the state’s criminal justice system against people of color through efforts like expungement.
Moderator Justin Terrell, MNJRC executive director and appointee to the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, described the desire by many following George Floyd’s murder for the board — which licenses police officers statewide — to be used as a potential tool for accountability via the revocation of those licenses. Terrell said the board is in the midst of overhauling its rules but will need support from the Legislature to codify rules like banning no-knock warrants and banning officers from having white supremacist affiliations.
Schnell, also a licensed social worker, said the board of social work can take action on his license if he acted inappropriately and the POST board should do the same with its officers.
“I’m an attorney and attorneys are licensed, teachers are licensed, social workers, doctors, nurses all have licensing boards to ensure that we’re operating correctly and fairly,” agreed Moller. “Officers need to be held to the same standards and all those other licensing.”