Police licensing board OKs new policies on misconduct, protests

·4 min read

Minnesota's police licensing board approved new model policies on officer misconduct and protest response on Thursday, but acknowledged its limited ability to address violations.

The Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board advanced the new policies in its first meeting since the Legislature adjourned amid demands for more action on police accountability reforms. But under its current rules, the board can only enforce violations by police chiefs and sheriffs and not individual law enforcement officers.

"That still blows my mind," said Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy, the POST Board's chairwoman. "I think there is such a big gap between what the public expects a licensing board to do and what we have the ability to do."

After the divided Legislature adjourned without passing many of the dozen police reforms sought by activists and Democrats, attention turned to the POST Board as an alternate path toward changing policing in Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz, through executive action, is leaning on the board to make more data on police licensing available to the public and to follow up on ongoing efforts to redo its rule making and compliance processes.

The board is considering 30 reform proposals called for by the governor and members of the DFL's People of Color and Indigenous caucus this year — including new policies for releasing body camera footage and meeting as a board more regularly than four times a year.

Justin Terrell, a board member who represents the public, on Thursday called for the board to consider meeting more frequently to consider next steps on the reform proposals. McCarthy said Thursday that she would consider calling more meetings if members believed they were needed.

Terrell encouraged the board to meet more often so that community groups asking for changes in policing can work with the board.

"As Black folks lobbied and argued for police accountability this session, everybody got what they needed except for Black folks," Terrell said.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, the New Hope Democrat who served as vice-chair of the House's public safety committee this year, has also vowed to ensure that Walz "delivers on these reform measures."

The POST Board does not have the authority to mandate that law enforcement agencies adopt either of its model policies, McCarthy said. They instead serve as frameworks for agencies around the state to create their own sets of standards. At its last meeting in April, the board also approved a policy banning licensed officers from affiliating with known white supremacist extremist groups — something Democrats failed to outlaw through legislation this year.

Board member Rebecca Swanson said that the POST Board's rules on licensing issues "are not as robust as other licensing boards."

Among the major changes to the board's misconduct model policy is a ramping up of data collection. Officers must self-report violations of the POST Board's standards of conduct. And chiefs must submit data related to allegations of misconduct to the board in real time via its reporting system and update that data within 30 days of the final resolution of a complaint or investigation.

The board's new policy for officers responding to public assemblies and other First Amendment activities stemmed from scrutiny over how law enforcement handled the April protests that followed Daunte Wright's killing in Brooklyn Center.

A working group formed in May that included four law enforcement representatives and four members of the public helped create the new sets of standards, which will be reviewed annually.

"It was largely a very good process and the time we took to do it gave us the time to vet this by lots and lots of people," said Michelle Gross, a public member of the working group and president of Communities United Against Police Brutality.

The new standards limit when law enforcement can deploy crowd dispersal techniques during protests or rallies, including restricting when officers can deploy weapons such as batons or Tasers. Under the model policy, such force cannot be used as crowd control or dispersal techniques and only in cases where an imminent public safety threat exists.

During the board's next scheduled meeting in October, it will consider studying changes to its rules structure and the host of reforms called for by the governor.

McCarthy on Thursday described the ongoing review as "the infrastructure that lays the foundation to make real substantive change."

"It is important that we be deliberative because it can have a major impact," she said. "These are big changes. This is a lot that the POST board has never taken on before."