Two retired law enforcement officers in the state House want to increase protections for Minnesota police.
The legislators proposed raising the penalty for someone who attacks an officer from a gross misdemeanor to a felony and prohibiting local governments from disarming police. The bill banning disarmament comes in response to former Minneapolis mayoral candidate and DFL state Rep. Ray Dehn's campaign trail comments about disarming police.
The proposals have emerged as the nation grapples with the issue of violence between civilians and police.
"It's sad that I have to bring this bill, but I feel that it is very necessary," Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, said of the anti-disarmament measure.
He was attacked and shot 17 years ago while on duty, and his partner shot and killed the man, Grossell said. He said he thinks about the situation every day and wishes it had ended differently. But he said guns are an officer's "tools of his trade," necessary for protecting themselves and others.
However, officers who are under investigation or subject to disciplinary action could be disarmed, the bill states.
Both bills were discussed Thursday at the House Public Safety Committee. Dehn, a member of the committee, smiled as Grossell presented the measure.
During his failed mayoral bid last year, Dehn said in a statement: "We must divest resources, disarm officers, and dismantle the inherent violence of our criminal justice system."
Dehn said Thursday that in many countries officers do not carry guns, though he noted the prevalence of firearms in the U.S. changes the debate.
"I understand what your bill is trying to do," Dehn told Grossell. "But I just think that a conversation about peace officers' use of force, guns and their sidearms — I think this is a healthy conversation, and I look forward to continuing it in the future."
Grossell and Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, who introduced the legislation strengthening assault penalties, both said officers should not have resources taken away.
Johnson said someone who attacks an officer should face a felony charge. The offender could face a maximum of two years in jail and a fine of $4,000. That increases to three years and $6,000 if the attacker harms or throws bodily fluid or feces at the cop.
Someone who assaults an officer already faces more serious charges than a person who attacks another citizen, Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, said. While assault is a misdemeanor offense, assaulting a member of law enforcement nets someone a gross misdemeanor — and if someone injures the officer during the assault it's a felony, said Pinto, a prosecutor with the Ramsey County Attorney's Office.
Pinto voted against the measure and said he wants to keep the legal distinction between someone who injures an officer during an assault and someone who does not. He said the different charges create an incentive for someone not to hurt the police. Johnson disagreed.
"When a gentleman comes up and intentionally attacks an officer, who is he not going to attack?" Johnson said. "He's a danger to the public if he's willing to attack an officer."