A day after Gov. Mark Dayton drew their criticism by calling for a new $12 million police training fund to be named after Philando Castile, he met with law enforcement officials Friday to discuss how to improve race relations and other aspects of crime and policing.
Dayton called the private, one-hour meeting constructive, and once again stressed his support for law enforcement. They also discussed what he said was unexpected backlash over his choice to name the fund after a black motorist fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop.
“I made a suggestion. I don’t want that becoming the focal point of what I’m trying to do here,” the DFL governor said. “This being one of several meetings over the last couple weeks to meet with people, different stakeholders, and get their ideas and perspectives on how we move forward. And that’s what I want to do, is go forward.”
The meeting was attended by seven police chiefs, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman, representatives from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, Minnesota Sheriff’s Association and the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board.
Plymouth Police Chief Michael Goldstein said the meeting addressed a number of issues that affect crime and policing. They discussed improving diversity, the failure of the mental health system, sharing best practices, economics and transportation problems. With the new pool of money for training, he said police departments can no longer use the excuse that they can’t afford it.
“The training money is a good start, but we are all asking what’s the next step?” Goldstein said. “We talked about enhanced training before an officer starts on the job and how to make the profession more attractive to all people.”
Thursday marked the anniversary of the death of Castile, 32, who was shot and killed by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop. Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter last month.
Dayton gathered with Castile’s family and recommended naming the training fund in his memory. Prominent police unions called that suggestion an insult and that it should have been named after an officer killed in the line of duty.
“It’s very difficult to have candid conversations about diverse communities, not just between police and communities of color,” said Dayton. “Emotions are deeply felt, and they are very close to the surface.”
Friday’s meeting was planned before the backlash. Law enforcement had previously criticized Dayton for comments he made the day after Castile was killed.
“Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white?” Dayton asked last year. “I don’t think it would have. ... On behalf of all decent-minded Minnesotans, we are shocked and horrified. This kind of behavior is unacceptable.”
On Friday, Dayton said his earlier statement wasn’t a judgment of all police.
“I regret that my remarks were reported or construed by some as being in any way a criticism of law enforcement in Minnesota,” said Dayton. “It’s just totally untrue.”
Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said in a statement Friday that the loss of life under any circumstance is tragic and the natural inclination is to remember the person who died.
“But there are 10,000 men and women in Minnesota who put their lives on the line every day as peace officers and many of them view this as undermining their dedication to community policing and the citizens they serve,” he said.
Dayton included the naming request in a formal letter to the POST board, the group of law enforcement officers and community members that will sort out how to use the new training money. The board must also sign off on Dayton’s request.
POST Board Executive Director Nate Gove said the board has never named a fund, and its 15 members must vote on its approval.
“No matter what the board decides, increased training in these crucial areas is something we at the POST Board have been advocating for,” Gove said.
Dayton called on law enforcement officials and community leaders to recognize how their actions and their members’ actions affect the community at large, he said.
Dayton said the law enforcement group pointed out that many of their already-established initiatives get little attention. St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson discussed having a years-old program for mentoring kids who hadn’t committed actual crimes, but were identified by their officers through their interactions as being at risk, he said.
“So that kind of outreach, that kind of real concern for the betterment of their communities, is something that they certainly deserve great credit and recognition for, and it’s important for me to gain that perspective,” Dayton said.
Dayton also appointed Castile’s uncle, Clarence Castile, to serve on the board. In a statement, Castile said there is a need to spend some money on civilian training that focuses on crisis intervention and management and de-escalation.
“That entails learning how to comply with law enforcement,” he said. “I know that will hurt some feelings to hear that, but I’d rather have feelings hurt than someone else losing their life.”
Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said the naming of the fund in Castile’s memory is a first step to heal some of the anger, frustration and mistrust communities of color feel toward law enforcement. Having four young black sons, she is concerned how police would engage with them, she said.
“The name on the fund doesn’t mean people are against police officers,” she said.