Outrage over the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile is reviving calls at the Capitol to impose new state oversight of law enforcement by requiring significant changes in officer training, traffic stop procedures and misconduct investigations.
The overhaul is necessary at the state level to ensure the changes are comprehensive and consistent, said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “It is clear, and it has been clear for a long, long time, that the way we conduct policing in this country needs to change dramatically,” he said.
The emerging proposals would grant far-reaching new powers to civilian oversight boards of police departments, such as giving them authority to hire police chiefs and investigate officer misconduct. The boards also would set racial profiling and data collection policies for departments.
What’s suddenly stirring at the Capitol is likely to prompt political conflict with local law enforcement agencies and police unions, whose endorsements could be critical in a high stakes election year when every legislative seat is on the ballot.
Castile’s death after a traffic stop in Falcon Heights Wednesday night drew a fresh wave of criticism of law enforcement, coming the day after police shot and killed another black man in Baton Rouge, La. These latest police shootings of black men are renewing scrutiny of how police do their jobs, and a growing number of political leaders are demanding changes.
Gov. Mark Dayton, who twice met with demonstrators outside the governor’s residence after Castile’s death, said he is considering a new task force to address the issue.
“We need to be working in Minnesota to find ways to bring people with different perspectives together and try to find common ground and understanding,” Dayton said Friday.
The governor also said he is seeking the advice of local and national civil rights groups, law enforcement officials in Minnesota, and city officials who have experience in boosting policing standards and tactics.
“This is really going to have to happen at the community level. It’s going to have to happen in the sight of local law enforcement, local citizens,” Dayton said. “It’s going to need that kind of engagement — it’s not going to be able to be a top down kind of thing.”
Dayton’s public remarks on the shooting have been forceful, jeopardizing what has been strong support from law enforcement unions. The day after the Castile shooting, he said race likely played a factor, a dramatic assertion so early in the investigation.
A swift and rare rebuke of the governor from law enforcement unions and their supporters signaled that change will not come easy.
“Governor Dayton’s extraordinarily presumptive conclusion that the tragic incident in Falcon Heights was motivated by race is the height of political malfeasance that could lead to a miscarriage of justice, if not more violence,” said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.
Earlier this year, Dibble proposed a set of policing changes, but they failed to advance.
Other legislation would require a special prosecutor be appointed in cases involving use of force by police. The bill also would prohibit the use of grand juries in those types of cases.
The November election could be a determining factor in the success of efforts to overhaul police practice and accountability.
The Senate is likely to remain in Democratic hands, but the House GOP majority is seen as more fragile.
“If the DFL takes the majority in the House, it’s more likely to make some progress on this,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.
Many of House Democrats’ stronghold political districts are in some of the state’s most diverse communities, where police distrust often runs high.
A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll conducted in late April found that 83 percent of black respondents said Minnesotans of color are not treated fairly by the state’s criminal justice system. Only 8 percent of black respondents said the criminal justice system treats whites and blacks the same. Of white respondents, 43 percent said the system treats both races equally, while 29 percent said it does not.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, was not available to comment.
Part of the challenge, some legislators said, will be resistance by lobbyists representing law enforcement groups. They have engaged on a variety of measures at the Capitol in recent years, from blocking an expansion of fireworks sales to helping shape one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the nation.
“Law enforcement has a strong voice at the Capitol, and that voice needs to be listened to, but not listened to exclusively,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
House Public Safety Committee Chairman Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said he believes state laws and policies are already adequate.
“Minnesota has the highest trained peace officers in the nation,” said Cornish, a retired police and conservation officer. Cornish sent an e-mail to colleagues after Castile’s shooting saying Dayton’s comments about the racial implications were made to “please certain people,” referring to black activists who have been holding protests outside of Dayton’s residence.
State Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, condemned Cornish’s remarks. “His message indicates that he is in denial that different standards are applied based on unchecked and unrecognized bias,” she said.