ST. PAUL, Minn. — Top Minnesota law enforcement officials announced Monday they are launching a working group and public hearings on police-involved shootings, saying that finding ways to prevent and respond to fatal encounters will increase trust between authorities and citizens.
Attorney General Keith Ellison will join Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington as co-chairs of a 16-member working group focused on officer-involved shootings. The group includes Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Clarence Castile, uncle of Philando Castile , who was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer during a 2016 traffic stop. The first of three scheduled public hearings is next month.
Harrington said he hopes what comes out of the group is a "transparent view, so that communities will know what to expect and so that when they have one of these tragedies in their midst, that they will know that they can trust the process." He added that the time to discuss fatal officer-involved encounters is not when one happens.
Since 2014, there have been 101 officer-involved shootings in Minnesota resulting in injury or death, according to Harrington.
The announcement comes as police departments and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension have often come under heavy scrutiny for their handling of such shootings.
Video is frequently withheld from officer-involved shootings for months while an investigation is done. And officers are rarely charged.
Ellison, a Democrat, said the formation of the statewide working group signals "an attitudinal shift that we cannot keep going from crisis to crisis to crisis."
The BCA was sharply criticized for its investigation of the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond by a Minneapolis police officer, with Damond's father accusing the agency of either resisting a real investigation or being incompetent. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman also criticized the agency's early work on the case.
The working group does not include a representative from the BCA, which is under the Department of Public Safety. Harrington, who was appointed public safety commissioner by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz in January, said he is there "to represent the BCA's voice," and that the agency will testify at the hearings.
Harrington said he and Ellison discussed setting up the working group months before the April conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor for fatally shooting Damond, who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home.
Clarence Castile told The Associated Press on Monday that police officers need to be prepared before encountering a high-pressure situation to avoid overreacting.
"We need to do something ahead of time before something tragic happens, to prepare our cops more for difficult situations or stressful situations or dangerous situations," Castile said.
Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot Philando Castile, was acquitted in June 2017 of all charges related to the shooting.
The group's final report to the Legislature is expected by February 2020.