Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Q&A: Chair of POST Board on how it has changed and could change policing in Minnesota

The POST Board has emerged as a potential avenue for reform and accountability following the murder of George Floyd by a then-Minneapolis Police officer in 2020, and as calls for robust police reform measures went unfulfilled by the divided Legislature.

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy shown speaking at a State Capitol press conference in 2021.
Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy shown speaking at a State Capitol press conference in 2021.
MinnPost file photo by Peter Callaghan

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy has chaired the Minnesota Peace Officer Training and Standards (POST) Board, which licenses the thousands of officers across the state, since 2019.

Following the murder of George Floyd by a then-Minneapolis Police officer in 2020, and as calls for robust police reform measures went unfulfilled by the divided Legislature, the board has emerged as a potential avenue for reform and accountability. 

To that end, the Board voted unanimously last month to adopt sweeping changes to its rules. Among them were banning officers from associating with or promoting the views of extremist and hate groups, as well as removing the conviction of an officer as a requirement for investigating misconduct. 

The latter was aimed at increasing the agency’s ability to deal with bad cops – a long-awaited change after years of criticism over the board’s lack of authority.

Article continues after advertisement

McCarthy spoke with MinnPost via phone for this interview, which has been edited for length and clarity. 

MinnPost: How has your experience as a chief of police informed your role as a chair of the licensing board?

Kelly McCarthy: By no means does the chair need to be a police officer. But I do think it gave me insight into how much could be changed, and really just how skilled police officers are with dealing with change. So I think I was able to push just a little bit harder due to having that experience.

MP: During your tenure as POST Board chair, what were some of the most significant changes, or the changes that you’re the most proud of?

KM: It really all started with us having an external audit. Nothing is more dangerous than thinking you know something. We thought we knew what we needed to change — and it’s never fun to bring in somebody to just critique your work — but starting off that way gave us a good roadmap. There were so many things that we wanted to do, it helps to prioritize because if everything’s important, then nothing is important so it really helped us focus our energy. We knew the rules process was going to be long, so we started that right away.

(In terms of other big shifts), the changing of the immigration status requirement. To be eligible to be a police officer in Minnesota, you had to be a citizen. We looked at other states and what we could do, and through the rules process, we changed that to you just have to be legal to work in Minnesota because the immigration and naturalization process takes forever. There are so many people who would otherwise be wonderful police officers — why not let them serve? Well, they were going through that process. I really think that’s going to help a lot of police departments in Minnesota reflect their citizenry. 

I was really excited about putting into the rules that the POST Board now doesn’t have to wait for a conviction before it can investigate misconduct, because we both know there’s a lot a lot of behavior between doing something that would sully the profession and actually being convicted of something. So this will allow the Board to start those investigations earlier, and either exonerate a lot of officers or take license action against officers who do not reflect our values.

MP: How has George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing spotlight on policing affected both the board’s priorities and how it goes about doing its work?

KM: The spotlight was really on us, and it’s easy for police officers to say, “Well, that’s a Minneapolis problem” or “That’s a metro problem.” But citizens don’t know the difference between a Minneapolis cop and Mendota Heights cop. 

Article continues after advertisement

After the murder of George Floyd, police in Minnesota were synonymous with bad policing, so we had an obligation to do everything we could to repair and restore that trust in the community and our reputation worldwide. I mean, there are people who have never heard of Minnesota before and couldn’t find it on a map but will tell you about police in Minnesota because of the murder of George Floyd. I don’t think we fully understood that at the time.

MP: What are some changes that you hope the board will be looking at going forward?

KM: We’ll have to streamline some of the testing and reciprocity guidelines. I hope that we will look at standardizing more of the curriculum for people to become police officers, I hope we will create training certifications so that if an officer wants to train in a certain subject, they have to have a certification and pass a proficiency test because there’s a big difference between knowing how to do something and knowing how to teach a skill. I hope that we create a repository of best practices that any agency no matter its size can tap into and really help bring up the quality of all agencies in Minnesota. 

So there’s a lot of work to be done, there’s a lot of room for improvements and I know this Board is gonna do it. The staff at the POST Board is amazing and they’re also committed to that continuous improvement so I’m really excited for the future.

MP: There have been increased calls for no more qualified immunity — a legal doctrine that protects law enforcement from being personally liable unless clearly shown to have violated people’s rights — and personal liability insurance for officers. What do you make of that idea? Is that something within the board’s purview? And if so, is it something the board is considering examining?

KM: I didn’t know what qualified immunity was until three years ago, so how big of a deal it is? I don’t know. On personal liability insurance, I’m all for it because I’m the chief of a suburban agency that has monetary resources so I’d be able to recruit really quality officers by saying, “We’ll pay your personal liability insurance.” 

I can imagine larger departments or departments that aren’t as financially stable as ours might have an issue with that, and it might actually have some pretty negative, unintended consequences. But qualified immunity, I really don’t know enough about it to worry about it one way or another. I’ve never once gone on patrol and been like, “Oh no, how does qualified immunity apply here?” It’s just not something most cops think about so I’m not the best person to answer that.

MP: Thoughts on the proposal working its way through the Legislature to ban no-knock warrants?

KM: Ban them. We should have banned them years ago.

MP: How do you think the relatively recent addition of four members of the public to the board helps the board in its work?

Article continues after advertisement

KM: That’s been so vital. There’s so many things that you get into a groove or you do just because you’ve always done, and when you get that fresh pair of eyes that asks “Why?” You then pause and you’re like, “Yeah why do we do that?” or “Why don’t we do that?” or “What do other people do?” so it really just brings that different perspective. 

People will not necessarily complain but they’ll remark that the doctors board or the lawyers board are all lawyers are all doctors, and so the police board should be all police. I would argue that you have a choice what doctor you go to and if you don’t like that doctor, you can go to a different doctor. With police, it’s not that way. If you as a citizen don’t want to interact with a certain police officer, you don’t have a ton of control over that so there needs to be more citizen representation on our board than there are on boards where people do have that choice up front.

MP: In recent years, there have been calls for the Legislature to pass police reform laws, but there has also been more attention paid to the POST Board in that regard. What do you make of the Board emerging as somewhat of a tool for reform?

KM: The citizens expect a licensing board to have certain authority, and I think citizens came in contact with the licensing board and our lack of authority was really laid bare. Where other professions could handle misconduct at that licensing level, the POST Board didn’t have the authority to do that. So it automatically escalated to the next level, which is the Legislature, and lawmakers and the Governor (Tim Walz) were looking around thinking they don’t get these calls for reform for teachers or reform for plumbers because it’s handled at this licensure level. Why isn’t that the same for the police?

We realized that previous boards did a great job with the education on the front end and the testing, and that’s really where they were putting their energy. Then once they built that foundation, then our Board could move forward with the rules and this more regulatory function. If not for the work of all those prior boards and board members, we wouldn’t have been able to get to where we have in the past three years.