When law enforcement officers use deadly force, the effects ripple out far beyond the incident itself. In Minnesota, there have been more than 100 such incidents resulting in death or injury over the last five years.
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Attorney General Keith Ellison want to develop a statewide approach to decrease such encounters while keeping officers and communities safer. Their plan, already underway, uses a 16-member working group of law enforcement officers, community members, academics and bipartisan legislators to engage the public and generate ideas from the ground up.
“We cannot keep going from crisis to crisis,” Ellison said recently when he and Harrington met with the Star Tribune Editorial Board. “We’ve got to take a look at this and figure out what we’re going to do together.” Among those committed to the effort is Clarence Castile, the uncle of Philando Castile, a nutrition supervisor at a St. Paul school who was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer during a 2016 traffic stop. “The community and cops working together, rebuilding trust and legitimacy — that’s what we need to do,” Castile said when he joined the group.
The need to rebuild trust was in full evidence at the working group’s first meeting, held in August at the State Capitol. Angry protesters, including those who had family members shot by police, temporarily shut down the hearing before it even started. Nevertheless, Harrington told the Editorial Board, he considered it a good start. “They came back,” he said. “They came back and we listened. We talked.”
Harrington, with 40 years experience as an officer, said he knows how deep the concerns run on all sides. “We want to hear all of it,” he said. And, he added, that concerns stem from all parts of the state. He and Ellison noted that 60% of deadly force encounters occur in greater Minnesota. While the first meeting was held in St. Paul, a second meeting will take place from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Saturday at the Student Union of the Minnesota State University, Mankato, to discuss prevention, training, officer wellness and community healing. A third meeting in October, at a still-to-be-determined location in greater Minnesota, will focus on policy and legal implications.
No decisions have been made, but among the changes under discussion are more and better types of training; a statewide board to examine shootings, similar to the model used by the National Transportation Safety Board after an airline crash; and even a hard look at police discipline and firings. Ellison, in particular, said he believes strongly that a police chief who finds cause should have the authority to discipline an officer up to and including dismissal. Though the law requires arbitration, Ellison said there may need to be a law enforcement exception. “The chief needs to be the chief,” he said.
The group’s goal is to craft specific recommendations for the 2020 Legislature on reducing the number of deadly force incidents. “We want more trust, more accountability, more safety for everyone,” Ellison said.