Minn. governor takes executive action on police reform

Gov. Tim Walz announced a change in BWC policy and says he is using $15 million in COVID relief money for violence prevention grants


By Stephen Montemayor, Jessie Van Berkel
Star Tribune

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz is taking executive action on an array of public safety and policing proposals amid intense criticism by Democrats and community activists over a law enforcement spending agreement they say is inadequate.

Walz said he would use $15 million in COVID-19 relief money to pay for community violence prevention grants, increase data sharing from the state's police licensing board and order state-level law enforcement agencies to share footage of deadly police encounters with relatives of those killed within five days.

"Those are things people are asking for. Those build trust," Walz said. "They build trust in police, they build trust in the systems, they build trust amongst communities, and they provide the community with some basic closure and understanding for families."

Walz announced the orders a day before the Minnesota House was scheduled to vote on a public safety measure that activists have sharply criticized for not including many of the police accountability proposals they championed this year and which House Democrats called a top priority.

The agreement announced over the weekend included new regulations for how police obtain and use no-knock warrants and how they handle confidential informants. It also comes with new expectations for mental health crisis teams to help respond to some emergencies.

But it lacked House DFL priorities such as new limits on when police can stop motorists, an end to the statute of limitations for wrongful-death cases against officers and a ban on police affiliation with white supremacist groups.

Many of these proposals came to the forefront after the police killing of George Floyd more than a year ago. A judge last week sentenced former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to more than 22 years for the killing. The other three officers involved in Floyd's murder outside a south Minneapolis convenience store are awaiting trial.

"We have a problem in Minnesota: This is the epicenter of an international movement demanding an end to police violence and yet we cannot get a single meaningful police accountability measure across the finish line," said Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality.

Gross joined a collective of activists inside the State Capitol on Monday, including a group of Minnesotans whose relatives were killed by law enforcement, to voice their deep displeasure at what they viewed as a lack of meaningful police reforms in this year's bill.

They directed their ire at Democrats and Republicans alike.

"Governor, you have the power to do something, and all I have been getting from your office is lip service and I mean that," said state Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, who was among those to call for Walz to veto any public safety bill that lacked police reforms. "We don't need a news conference from you, governor, we need a leader."

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R- East Gull Lake, later said there were also a number of priorities the GOP would have liked to see in the public safety measure that did not make the cut. Republicans wanted more time for police to enact use of deadly force regulations passed last summer and wanted legislation to prevent people from publishing private information online about law enforcement officers, like their addresses, Gazelka said, among other provisions.

"None of those happened, but that's the nature of divided government. The Democrats in the House wanted to go one direction, we wanted to go the other," Gazelka said.

Under Walz's new executive actions, Minnesota will use $15 million in federal American Rescue Plan money for new community violence intervention initiatives, grants for crime victim survivors and for community safety plans in response to the latest surge in summer violence.

[READ: Use COVID-19 aid to hire more cops, fight violent crime, Biden says]

Walz on Monday also ordered a review of what data the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board collects and to compile it on a "public-facing dashboard," and he directed his state government's law enforcement agencies to let families of those killed in encounters with police view video of the incident within five days. A DFL bill that did not make the public safety package would have made such footage available within 48 hours and apply to all police agencies.

Minnesota House members are scheduled to vote on the final measure Tuesday, and legislators from both sides of the aisle have filed numerous amendments to try to change it. Members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus are still pushing many additional police accountability provisions that were left out of the deal, but they declined to say whether they would vote against the deal if it did not include those amendments.

They proposed 30 items they said Walz should direct the POST Board to take action on, including licensure code of conduct reforms related to banning excessive force and protecting people's First Amendment rights.

"We are optimistic to see the governor's commitment on helping us get this through and we expect his plan for action under his executive power to meet the moment for better and safer policing where Senate Republicans have failed," said Rep. Samantha Vang, DFL-Brooklyn Center.

Walz said he hopes state legislators approve the public safety and judiciary agreement they reached, but he said he knows it is not enough and wants to build on it in the future. The budget bill includes dollars for the state's prisons, among other critical state operations.

"We need to do all we can to make sure this gets done and it does get done on time," Walz said, noting that legislators "will have to vote their conscience on it, but the implications of this are pretty drastic for Minnesotans and that's what we're trying to avoid."

The governor said he was still hopeful legislators could agree on an amendment that would block police from pulling someone over for minor equipment violations or an expired vehicle registration.

But Senate Republicans on Monday signaled that they would not support passing such a measure this year.

"There's a lot of good that can happen by traffic stops as well," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R- Maple Grove. "We have heard the stories that they can be abused. But when you start hearing the news, just from the State Patrol alone in a matter of a short period of time, 2018 to present, that over 900 illegal weapons were seized as a consequence of those traffic stops, they do become a valuable instrument in law enforcement."

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