The Minnesota Legislature should be commended for the hard work, broad inclusion and compromise that has resulted in significant police accountability measures.
The package delivers on a statewide ban on both chokeholds and neck restraints of the type that were used in the arrest that ended in George Floyd’s death. It’s true a number of departments already had banned such holds, but the legislation applies the ban across every jurisdiction, and gives it the force of law. In addition, so-called warrior training can no longer be offered by departments and cannot count for education credits for officers. Such training teaches officers to view every situation in terms of maximum threat and can encourage overly aggressive responses.
The state also will launch a statewide database of deadly force incidents. DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said Tuesday that the database will go a long way toward showing trends and creating information to be used for further improvements in accountability.
Another needed tool for the good officers on the streets — and there are many — is a statewide duty for them to intervene when a colleague’s policing gets overly aggressive. Again, some departments, such as Minneapolis, already had such a requirement, but it wasn’t always followed. Now officers can intercede knowing they are backed by the full force of law, and that they risk a violation if they fail to act.
The bill also will create a state investigative unit to look into deadly force incidents, bringing a needed credibility to the results.
One of the toughest obstacles to better accountability has been a system of mandatory arbitration that made it difficult for police chiefs to get rid of rogue officers. Arbitration remains, but with a much-needed change: a rotating panel of experts will be used, curbing the perverse incentives of the current system, where arbitrators who landed too often on one side were less likely to be employed.
Hortman said the Legislature’s work does not end here. “It’s not nearly enough, but it is a considerable step forward,” she said. “This is just a start.” Community members, victims’ families, business leaders and a number of law enforcement agencies themselves all contributed to this effort. Not everyone will agree on the merits of these proposals. Some are already criticizing the efforts. That’s to be expected and, indeed, can keep the pressure on to make good on future reforms.
On a disappointing note, the Legislature failed to reach a compromise on what was to have been a bonding bill of about $1.8 billion. Efforts by Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka were not enough to surmount continued intransigence by House Republicans, where Minority Leader Kurt Daudt has needlessly linked capital improvements to ending Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency powers to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minnesotans should be outraged that such gamesmanship has cost the state and its citizens a needed bill that could have produced jobs and infrastructure projects in every corner of the state. Minnesotans have a right to expect better.