MN House Committee hosts hearing on Police Accountability

By: Sheila Regan, Freelance Community Journalist

In a Zoom committee hearing of the Minnesota House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division, lawmakers addressed police accountability in Minnesota. 

Rep Carlos Mariani (DFL, St. Paul), chaired the hearing, which started out with a presentation by House Legislative analyst Ben Johnson about what reforms were addressed during the legislative session, and how versions of reform differed between the House and the Senate.  

Those reforms included issues such as choke holds, use of force policy, oversight bodies, and policy around police training. 

According to Johnson, the provisions that were addressed by the House that were not contained in the Senate proposal included a prohibition on warrior-style training, residency requirements for police officers, an adjustment of civil statute of limitations on sexual assault or wrongful death against police officers, a law enforcement oversight council, an independent investigative unit in the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for all wrongful deaths and sexual assault by police officers, two grant programs that addressed alternative responses to safety, and an officer-involved death review board. 

Many of the reforms that Minneapolis has sought to do has been blocked by the MN State Legislature,” said Rep. Jamie Long (DFL, 61B). “These would allow the city to have more tools to have accountability for the Minneapolis police department.” 

Kelly McCarthy, Chair of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), testified that the next few years would be critical for the board. “The type of real change we are committed to takes time,” she said. “We are at risk for losing our officers who feel unsupported.” 

Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty, another testifier, spoke of the importance of moving away from warrior mentality for peace officers. 

“One of the things that maybe people in our office have said to me since George Floyd was murdered is that they see George Floyd all the time,” Moriarty said. “I think we need our legislature to declare what our values are.” 

St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter echoed Moriarty’s comments. “I’ve shared that my father’s story is having served St. Paul for 28 years on the St. Paul police department,” Carter said. “And my argument is that until we start to fix these disconnects, that even officers like him will just risk being perceived as armed enforcers of this logically defunct status quo.” 

Carter said St. Paul started its journey 3 years ago, by rewriting its use of force policy and its deployment of police dogs. “We’ve also terminated officers whose actions betrayed our public trust,” Carter said, adding that the city has also worked toward a public safety plan which includes addressing causes of public safety challenges. 

Later in the hearing, Carter said that recently, an officer told him the urgency of the problem. “I signed up for a dangerous job, but it hurts me when the actions of another officer in another city make my job all the more dangerous,” Carter recalled him saying. “People look at me because they’ve seen that video and think they can trust me less.” 

The final testifier was Dr. Joe Soss, from the Humphrey School of Affairs. “The life taken from George Floyd demands a central place in our moral and political obligations,” he said. 

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