Gov. Mark Dayton’s commission to improve policing in minority communities issued its final report Friday amid split opinions from its members.
The 30-page report from the Governor’s Council on Law Enforcement Community Relations contained a myriad of recommendations, ranging from more complete data on racial breakdowns of police encounters to further diversifying law enforcement agencies.
But the ideas were not universally accepted within the commission, which consisted of law enforcement officials and a diverse range of community groups. Some members said certain recommendations were anti law-enforcement, while others suggested reforms were not strong enough.
The report was approved by a vote of 6 to 3. One member abstained and five members did not show up to vote.
“It was a success because it is a start of what’s going to be some very difficult working going forward,” said James Burroughs, the governor’s representative on the commission. “The goal was to find some common ground on a few ideas or thoughts. I think we did that.”
Dennis Flaherty, retired executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, was one of three law enforcement representatives who voted against the report.
“There are implications that law enforcement has basically failed and that we’ve let down communities of color,” Flaherty said. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
Yusef Mgeni, a representative of the Minnesota-Dakota Area Conference of the NAACP, said he voted for the recommendations. He said law enforcement sat on one side of the table, community members sat on the other side, and there was “an awkward dance” between them.
“The report looks like sausage,” he said. “Little meat and a lot of fat and the recommendations are not as specific as either side would have liked.”
Flaherty said that from the first day of commission meetings the process was factionalized.
“As time went on … people’s attendance dropped off drastically and the views were so different about law enforcement,” he said. “At the end of the day, law enforcement didn’t support it and you have community groups that don’t support it so I am not sure what was accomplished.”
Dayton established the commission last October amid increasing criticism of law enforcement across the country and locally, particularly following the deaths of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, black men from the Twin Cities who were shot and killed by police in separate incidents. Family members of both Clark and Castile were named to the panel, which included 15 voting members and 17 ex officio members. The group held four listening sessions across the state and 16 task force meetings.
Dayton said Friday that he hadn’t read the report in full, but already planned to implement some of the recommendations as part of next year’s legislative agenda.
“I think they made a very good first step forward,” Dayton said. “We’re working with a board that had different views and … there is obviously not accord among the people, so I think they nailed it as far as they could go, and they’ll just have to keep nailing it.”
A key disagreement among members focused on the recommendation that a special prosecutor be appointed in “police investigations,” as partner to the county attorney, not a replacement.
Law enforcement representatives called it vague and unnecessary and wanted county attorneys to continue to make the decision on police prosecutions.
Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, who is not on the commission, called the report “all fluff.” She said she wanted an independent prosecutor who does not report to the county attorney.
“Prosecutors and the [Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension] are too cozy with police,” she said. “They are not going to prosecute these officers in a meaningful way.”
Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo voted against the report. He said he did not like the language on special prosecutors, noting it referred to all police investigations — not police shootings.
Jim Franklin, retired executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association and a commission member, said he voted against the report but conceded that it contained “a few things” that law enforcement can support.
“Crafting legislation takes many hours of discussion, debate and compromise,” he said. “In the end, if you come up with something that nobody likes, it’s probably about as close to a consensus as you can come.”
Voting member the Rev. Brian Herron supported the report and called it a “good first step, considering this is probably the first time all these entities were at the table together.”
“While I don’t think it goes far enough … it was a good initial dialogue that needs to continue.”