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A Minnesota task force on policing recommended 28 reforms for deadly-force incidents. After George Floyd, will its report get a serious look?

Police officers throwing canisters
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Minneapolis police officers throwing canisters to break up protesters on Wednesday night.

In late February, a state-led task force on policing released an extensive set of recommendations for how to prevent law enforcement from using deadly force on civilians and how best to respond when police do kill people.

It was the result of months of public hearings and closed-door negotiations between police groups, criminal justice advocates, state lawmakers and other Minnesota officials. Attorney General Keith Ellison and Department of Safety Commissioner John Harrington had convened the group to create a plan for change, because, as Harrington said at the time: “The time to discuss deadly-force incidents is not when one occurs.”

After George Floyd’s death, and video emerged of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he pleaded for air, Ellison and others are calling for that plan to be realized. And it’s getting renewed interest from state lawmakers, who are expected to begin a special legislative session in mid-June. 

“I urge us to really reflect upon the recommendations in this report,” Ellison told reporters on Wednesday. “Because at some moment, sadly, George Floyd will be laid to rest. At some moment the criminal and civil rights process will be concluded. But will we have made any real substantive changes or will we just be setting ourselves up for it to happen all over again?”

What’s included in the recommendations

Ellison and Harrington’s task force held four public hearings and several listening sessions throughout the state to get testimony. That included family members of people killed by police and law enforcement training experts.

The group also met in private to hash out disagreements and come up with a final report. Several members of the task force say the end product reflects a compromise, not something created solely by Ellison or Gov. Tim Walz’s administration.

There are 28 recommendations and 33 “action steps” in the report for the state government, local police departments and an officer training board to carry out. One is to create an independent investigative unit within the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate when officers use deadly force.

Attorney General Keith Ellison
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Attorney General Keith Ellison
The BCA already investigates deadly-force incidents to help county attorneys determine whether criminal charges are warranted. But Ron Davis, a consultant on the state report who led President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, said an extra layer of independence is justified because BCA agents work with police regularly on other criminal cases. “It may be tough to work with a guy two weeks on a homicide and then have to investigate them for using deadly force,” Davis said.

But there was no consensus on some controversial issues, only a recommendation to keep talking about them. For instance, the report asks for a review of state law that authorizes when officers can use deadly force. Interested parties should meet to hash out any changes “necessary to ensure there is a focus on the sanctity of life, as well as standards that require that the use-of-force be reasonable, necessary, and proportionate,” the report says.

It also says the Legislature should research the impact of body cameras by 2022, and if “evidence suggests they contribute to public safety and community trust, and provide value in deadly force encounters,” the Legislature should pay for them to be made available statewide.

Some of the key recommendations for police meant to prevent the use of deadly force is for law enforcement to adopt policies that “make sanctity of life a core organizational value,” require only reasonable and proportionate use of force and require officers to intervene when witnessing an unreasonable use of force. “Which means if you’re an officer you can’t stand around and say, ‘Well he did it, that wasn’t me,’ ” Ellison said.

Commissioner John Harrington
Commissioner John Harrington
While many connect those recommendations to the Floyd case, they also show the report’s limitations. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo was a member of the task force, and his department has implemented a sanctity of life policy and a requirement to intervene when another officer is using unreasonable force.

Arradondo used those policies to help justify firing four officers, three of which appeared to stand by when Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.

On Thursday, Chanda Smith Baker, a task force member and senior vice president of community impact at the Minneapolis Foundation, praised Arradondo and his work with the group, saying he is operating within a policing system that has “long fractured its trust with our community” in a way that can’t be repaired quickly.

Firing the four officers in short order represented progress, she said. But Smith Baker and Davis said larger changes are needed to address systemic racism and policing. While Minneapolis may have a “duty to intervene” policy, Davis said, “clearly no one at the scene felt obliged to do so.”

Report could be focus of special session

Still, Ellison and others now say lawmakers should consider adopting policies in the report when they convene in June for a special session. Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, has already called for changes to law enforcement policy, at least in part modeled after the task force report. 

During the regular 2020 legislative session there were bills to alter police use-of-force statutes and other policies, though they did not gain much traction, sometimes facing concerns from law enforcement but also because focus was diverted to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which represents 99 percent of cops in the state, said lawmakers should stick to the report recommendation because it’s the result of nine months of negotiations. “In light of what happened on Monday it just shows we kind of have a playbook,” Peters said.

Peters added he believes the Republican-controlled Senate would not agree to bills that alter use-of-force statutes without agreement from police groups and others through negotiations. State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, an Alexandria Republican who served on the task force and was the Douglas County sheriff for 16 years, said the Legislature could look at funding more training in crisis intervention and interacting with people experiencing mental health issues. He warned against “knee-jerk” legislation to quickly make major changes to use-of-force or other policing statutes without deliberation, saying he worries some changes could make it harder for police “to do their job.”

On Friday, just before announcing the BCA had arrested Chauvin, Ellison and Harrington again asked the Legislature and others to start implementing their recommendations. Harrington said one set of recommendations on “community healing” stood out to him as particularly necessary. 

It says the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board should develop a way to help law enforcement communicate more effectively and be more transparent with the public to build trust, and it says law enforcement should train officers “to be aware of the impact of current and historical racial trauma in communities.” It also recommends a new state office to mediate disputes and resolve conflicts between law enforcement and communities of color.

“The question that we asked (at the task force) and that I ask here with you is how does a community recover when its heart has been ripped out?” Harrington said.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by lisa miller on 05/29/2020 - 07:08 pm.

    I hope so. This is some of what is needed. Why did Mpls even allow a vague policy of allowing a knee to the neck(although it says you have to release within less than a minute and only in certain circumstances of resistance)–it leaves too much to the officer. There is no need for it, unless some one is trying take your gun or trying to kill you.
    The less glamorous work of things like this is needed. And it is rare to have the type of delirium the officers refer to–clearly they have limited understanding of chemical/mental and physical health. No there should not be knee jerk reactions, but some of these changes have thoughtfully been offered in the past–and funding for real training is needed.

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/30/2020 - 08:25 am.

    If nothing else, the Legislature immediately should codify the requirement that officers must intervene when they witness the use of excessive force, provide protections from retaliation, and criminalize the failure to do so.

  3. Submitted by Brian Simon on 05/30/2020 - 10:01 am.

    Given that “[MPD] has implemented a sanctity of life policy and a requirement to intervene when another officer is using unreasonable force,” it seems more drastic measures are necessary to rein in the Minneapolis police. We need accountability & mechanisms to remove violent cops from the force. The union, in particular, seems to value solidarity within the force over serving the community. For how many decades has the city been settling cases for cops that use unnecessary force? Instead we need to apply the same standards of accountability to police. If I beat someone senseless, I’ll end up in jail. We need to put violent cops there too.

  4. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 05/30/2020 - 10:12 am.

    quite frankly, rules and regulations that make the police officer’s job harder is what is needed. unarmed black men are being murdered by police. “resisting arrest?” I’d be surprised if I didn’t resist arrest for a petty crime. when you look at the videos of young black men being murdered by police officer(s) it almost seems like adrenaline takes over and all sense of proportionality goes out the window. after a death occurs, justice and guilty verdicts must follow. that’s the only way our community can heal.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/30/2020 - 11:18 am.

    I would say: “Shame” on Ellison and other who participated in this sham of a sham of a mockery of a sham. This entire process itself is a expression of institutional racism because it assumes that racism is a legitimate voice to be negotiated with.

    I’m sorry but you don’t negotiate terms of murder. Law enforcers don’t get to negotiate the use of lethal force, they are not entitled to kill people at will. Lethal force is a option granted to police officers by the community, it is not a mere policy decision or training exercise.

    The community they protect and serve dictates the use of lethal force police are allowed to deploy. Our police forces are not mercenaries with whom we negotiate the terms of our own “protection”. That’s not a police force, it’s a mob racket. Any society that makes “recommendations” rather than simply dictates the use of lethal force is playing with it’s own destruction.

    The fact that we’ve allowed our police officers to continue to train and use potentially lethal choke holds and neck restraints FOR DECADES despite multiple deaths and injuries is simply a product of ongoing institutional racism. The idea that police get to negotiate their practice of killing citizens is simply incoherent. Extra-judicial execution is simply not a feature of free societies or liberal democracies. You don’t get to kill or even beat people for alleged minor criminal offences- period.

    Listen: You do realize that Spike Lee depicted a choke hold killing in his 1989 movie: “Do The Right Thing”…THAT scene was inspired by the REAL killing of a graffiti artist by the name of Michael Stewart by NY Transit cops back in 1983. THAT’S how long this is have been going on and your telling me that MPD cops are STILL trained and permitted to use choke holds and neck restraints? And we’re “suggesting” some changes now? We need to negotiating the killing of citizens, we need to prohibit neck and choke holds- how is that not obvious?

    Here’s a link to Spike Lee discussing the choke scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAI70pY1Xiw

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/30/2020 - 11:32 am.

    “Sanctity of Life” is a philosophical expression, it’s used to discuss everything from abortion to State execution. It should surprise no one that it’s application here has produced another dead black man.

    Cops are not philosophers. I mean absolutely no disrespect when I point out the fact that cops tend to be very concrete thinkers with procedural minds. They don’t want philosophies, they want directions, they want to be told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. If you train them to use choke holds and neck restraints, they will use them, and people will die because these are inherently potentially lethal techniques. Cops don’t drive around philosophizing, they drive around looking for bad guys and emergencies. Anyone who expects a cop to walking into a scenario with philosophy on their minds is simply not a serious person.

    • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 05/30/2020 - 03:56 pm.

      Paul, you’ve made a number of good points about what is true and what may and may not always be true of police officers.

      Some officers in local, state and federal agencies are, in fact, philosophers. They have doctorates in law and law enforcement. However, they are in the minority, but rise to the top of their field with fine law enforcement activity and good and great behavior as a role model to citizens and their peers.

      Many others are xenophobic, racist, and prone to believe hysteria on mental health, financially distressed and homeless, and gay people. This, however, is not a complete picture of all officers, Special Agents, and Marshals.

      You are somewhat correct in stating that many officers need to have rules and procedures to guide them, and that many are not comfortable without direction from outside of themselves.

      I wonder how many officers were victims of child abuse who never sought therapy — even if they had the means to seek therapy for internal healing…whether though casual talks with wise friends, clergy, family, or therapists. I wonder how many officers have personality disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders, or who have a history of learning disorders where they have a residual bad feeling about themselves.

      Thus culture of officers often shows us that law enforcement personnel are afraid of seeking guidance for things that bother them, like traumas or organic mind disorder like Borderline Personality of Schizo-affective disorder and paranoia.

      Pilots must go through intensive medical reviews to determine whether they are physically and mentally capable of using an aircraft in a safe and consistent manner. I am interested to know if those in law enforcement, who are more likely to kill or injure people than an aircraft typically would under the stewardship of a capable pilot.

      As one with a depressive disorder, I do not want to own a gun. Nor am I medically entitled to have a pilot’s license.

      However, we must begin to open the world of therapy for law enforcement officers with peculiar ways of thinking to overcome those thoughts and anxieties for their benefit, the family that they belong to, our neighbors and visitors, and for the reputation of our cities, regions and nation.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2020 - 08:44 am.

        Hey Barry, yes some of our officers hold advanced degrees, and I’m not trying to disparage law enforcers when I attempt to describe their mentality, every profession requires a certain mentality to be proficient. My point is that instead trying to manage mentalities, we need to focus on behavior and procedures, and we can’t negotiate the terms of extra-judicial killing.

        By the way, those cops with the advanced degrees… have been telling us for years that we have to prohibit head and neck restraints. Once a suspect is in cuffs and on the ground, you get off them.

      • Submitted by Lindsey Rowland on 06/10/2020 - 08:17 pm.

        I think that officer mental health must be a top priority in any discussion of police reform. Officers must pass a pre-employment psychological examination to be cleared for duty. However, officers witness horific scenes including homicides, suicides, domestic assault, child abuse, and motor vehicle accidents that result in serious bodily injury or death AFTER they are hired. Unfortunately, officers have very few resources available to work through this trauma. Over a decades-long career, continued exposure to extreme trauma without mental health resources to work through trauma and develop resiliency can lead to depression, anxiety, compassion fatigue, and PTSD. Even after the events of the last few weeks (including rioting, looting, and city-wide fires), officers are not being given access to mental health services they need nor are they being given time off to cope with these stressors. In fact, the Minnesota legislature recently adopted expedited rules that make it MORE difficult for first responders who are suffering from work-related PTSD to get mental health treatment (see Minnesota Rules section 5221.6700). Any reforms that do not address officer mental health will fall short, in my opinion, of reaching their goal.

    • Submitted by Jim Dustrude on 06/01/2020 - 09:35 am.

      Thanks for some great perspective Paul. A letter published in the 7/8/16 Strib seemed spot-on to me. I’m wondering if anyone knows of its resonance within the community of active citizens, including you. I just forwarded it to Ellison and Jim Walsh too. Here it is:

      StarTribune letters, Friday, July 8, 2016:
      The police officers involved in Wednesday’s shooting will not be prosecuted, through no fault of the county attorneys, the prosecutors or a grand jury. Those individuals are tasked with determining whether the police officers involved in the shooting violated state or federal law in the killing of Philando Castile. This is the same task of those involved in the investigations of the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or the hundreds of other black men killed by police every year. In the 346 cases in 2015 where police officers killed black men, those tasked with determining whether those police officers should be prosecuted decided not to prosecute in 97 percent of those cases (mappingpoliceviolence.org). Given those statistics, you have to wonder whether the police killing of black men is even illegal. Looking at the applicable Minnesota statutes, it may not be as illegal as you think, and therein lies the real problem.

      Minnesota Statute 609.066 covers the use of deadly force by police officers. The statue says, in relevant part, “the use of deadly force by a peace officer in the line of duty is justified only when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm.” The keyword here is “apparent.” While that term isn’t defined in the statute, it has been interpreted to mean that when the police officer believes that he is in danger, he can kill the person posing the “apparent” danger. The statute does not require that the police officer’s assessment of the danger be reasonable, or even rational. It only requires that the officer claim that he, himself, believed he was in danger. The reason for that belief can be anything, and is not limited by the statute. So if an officer believes he is in danger because of a person’s actions, or speech, or clothes, or skin color, as long as the officer himself is afraid, he can legally kill that person.

      I can absolutely believe that the officer who shot Castile was afraid at the time. Why he was afraid, I can’t know. But as long as he claims that he was afraid, for whatever reason, he won’t be prosecuted under Minnesota law. There is no check or balance for reasonableness in Minnesota Statute 609.066. And until it’s changed to hold police officers accountable for killing people based on unreasonable or irrational fear, we will continue to see these police killings of black men go unchecked.

      OCHEN KAYLAN, Minneapolis
      The writer is an attorney.

  7. Submitted by Barry Peterson on 05/30/2020 - 05:39 pm.

    I found the following link to an article on depression written by a Federal Aviation Administration doctor. I am bringing it up as I am concerned for not only the family of George Floyd, but of the person who called 911 about a measly $20.00 bill that led to the death of at least two men in Minnesota and possibly elsewhere around the country, and millions of dollars in destruction by rioters.

    I checked on this, originally, to determine if former officer Derek Chauvin should be put on suicide watch as he has lost his family, his job, his reputation, and, likely, the privilege of ever having an opportunity to engage in a profession with which he has identified for many years.

    Part of the law enforcement and judicial response should be toward rehabilitating men and women, as they do in Norway. It is important to understand what a suspect is going through, including a former cop who killed someone while on duty.

    Having been a member of the Hennepin County Adult Mental Health Advisory Council for three years, I am an advocate for great mental health and for protecting people and supporting people, regardless of their background, who may have chronic or short term mental health problems. I am concerned that Mr. Floyd’s family, Derek Chauvin and his family, and the cashier at the store where the $20.00 bill was found to be a forgery may slip into some form of depression, possibly leading to either thoughts of suicide or an active attempt by Mr. Chauvin.

    Here is the article:

    https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/medical_certification/hop/media/depression.pdf

  8. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 06/01/2020 - 01:50 pm.

    I have to admit that I haven’t read everything that has been written about the George Floyd incident, especially the comments. However, one question I have had from the beginning of this whole incident is why was George Floyd being arrested in the first place? Some accounts I have seen said that it was because he was trying to pass a forged check. Others have said a forged bill. Which is it? If it was a forged check, that is one thing. But if it was a forged bill, then, to me, he was being arrested for simply being black.

    Now I will also admit it has been five years since I worked retail. But where I worked, a women’s clothing store, we were told to check bills with the marking pen. If it came up as forged, check it again. Inform the customer that it was forged, couldn’t be used towards the purchase, get their name, etc. from an ID – driver’s license, etc., allow the customer to complete the purchase if they chose to, keep the allegedly forged bill and turn it over to the store manager for whatever the next part of the process was going to be.

    None of that process required me to call the cops to have someone arrested. So what happened here? Am I totally off?

  9. Submitted by John Hoefs on 06/01/2020 - 04:51 pm.

    Can you email me a copy of the actual police reform report?
    Or provide a link so that I can download, print, review, etc.
    Also, can you create a forum for people to provide input on police reform?

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