The state’s top police regulator moved Wednesday to improve the handling of sexual assault cases in Minnesota, aiming to have a model policy for investigations and guidelines for officer training ready when the Legislature convenes in January.
The steps by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) are the most far-reaching of various changes proposed in the wake of a Star Tribune series that has documented widespread failings in the way Minnesota law enforcement agencies investigate rapes and sexual assaults. The board licenses more than 12,000 peace officers across the state.
Meeting in St. Paul Wednesday, the POST board’s executive committee directed its standards committee to craft a model policy for investigating sexual assaults and directed its training committee to determine the best sexual assault training for officers. That committee was also instructed to consider options such as certifying investigators who have completed sexual assault training, which at least one other state does. The board has already started collecting model policies from other states.
“Everything is on the table,” board chairman Tim Bildsoe said in an interview.
Bildsoe said he’s eager to include all stakeholders, such as detectives, victim advocates and prosecutors, but hasn’t figured out the right format yet.
“I really think it’s important to have a good cross-section of people with expertise,” Bildsoe said. “It’s important to hear the voices and make sure we do it right.”
Bildsoe said he has also considered coordinating with task forces proposed, separately, by state Rep. Erin Murphy and Attorney General Lori Swanson following the Star Tribune’s first story in July, but he hasn’t yet discussed that with them. Murphy, for instance, suggested directing the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to create a task force that would audit police investigations of all sexual offenses across the state. “Our time frame is probably more aggressive than theirs,” Bildsoe said.
Bildsoe said he anticipates that lawmakers may ask the board to consider training requirements and a model policy, and he said he wants to “have the work product done” by the board’s quarterly meeting on Jan. 24. The Legislature convenes Jan. 8.
He said he’s writing Gov. Mark Dayton to outline the board’s strategy.
Dayton scolded the board last month following the Star Tribune’s first stories, saying it needed to address failings in police handling of sexual assaults and doesn’t require legislative direction to do so. In a July 25 letter to the board’s executive director, Nathan Gove, Dayton asked the board “to immediately develop procedures and training requirements for peace officers investigating cases involving sex crimes.”
The Star Tribune reviewed more than 1,000 sexual assault reports from the Twin Cities and around Minnesota since 2015 and found hundreds of cases in which police departments failed to interview witnesses, collect evidence or even assign detectives.
All 15 members of the POST board are appointed by the governor, although Gove’s position is filled by board. The board’s makeup is dominated by current and former law enforcement professionals. Bildsoe, an insurance professional, is the board’s first civilian chairman.
The board has 17 model policies, such as how to conduct a police pursuit or avoid racial profiling, and Minnesota law enforcement agencies are required to adopt most of them.
The board last adopted a new model policy in 2010, when it set rules for handling property such as cash, drugs, firearms or jewelry seized by officers.