Two turbulent years of revelations about Minneapolis police misconduct that began with the murder of George Floyd are reshaping a state agency denounced by many for failing to rein in bad cops.

The Minnesota Board of Police Officer Standards and Training, better known as the POST board, approved new rules this spring that would allow the board to revoke the license of an officer who violates its conduct guidelines, whether or not the officer has been charged or convicted of a crime. The board now can revoke a license only when an officer is convicted of a felony or certain gross misdemeanors.

The proposed change is applauded by former Minneapolis Police Chief John Laux, who served as the board's executive director in 1995-98. "It is long overdue that the POST board has some teeth in it," he said.

The rules also would bar a police officer from membership in extremist groups, such as a white supremacist organization. And the rules would beef up a wide range of other police conduct regulations, including standards on excessive force.

The rules, approved by the board on a 9-3 vote, need approval from the governor, followed by a 30-day comment period and a public hearing — expected this fall — that could lead to additional modifications by the board.

An administrative law judge will review the comments and testimony and issue a report, possibly in November, followed by final board action. The rules would then be published and take effect five days later.

Some of the changes have already drawn criticism. Some critics say individual cities and departments, not the POST board, should discipline misbehaving officers. Others say the language banning membership in extremist groups is too broad.

Brooklyn Park police officer Jennifer Foster, one of three POST board members to vote against the rules, takes issue with several provisions, including the ban on membership in an extremist group. Foster said extremism "can be interpreted in many different ways."

But POST board member Justin Terrell, executive director of the Minnesota Justice Research Center, said the rules represent the board's effort to live up to its original intent when it was created in 1977: setting high standards for police officers.

"The state body that governs licenses should be the final stop in the accountability chain," said Terrell, who also chairs the POST board rules committee.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association did not respond to a request for comment on the new rules, and Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said his organization didn't yet fully understand all of their possible implications.

"We are completely on board that participating in hate groups at any time can undermine trust between a police department and their community," Potts said.

New direction

Grassroots pressure — along with calls for reform from the DFL's People of Color and Indigenous Caucus at the Legislature and an aggressive push by Gov. Tim Walz — encouraged the POST board's new direction. Even police insiders were frustrated with the board's failures.

"I could not convince anybody that the POST board could be anything more than a paper tiger," said Laux. "It was a lot of talk and it couldn't do anything, and they paid a price."

After former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin's murder conviction in 2021 in the death of George Floyd, and responding to calls for reform in the wake of uproar over police misconduct, Walz recommended the POST board pursue reforms.

"I ask you to rise to the moment to implement bold and responsible proposals to heal divides in Minnesota," Walz told the board in a public letter. "The POST board has an opportunity to transform policing in Minnesota."

After Walz took office in 2019, he appointed new board members and named as chair Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy, who has championed the reforms.

"We have some of the best police officers in the country, and yet we are having these awful outcomes," McCarthy said in a recent interview. "Policing in Minnesota has become synonymous with these awful outcomes. ... George Floyd, Philando Castile, Daunte Wright, Jamar Clark, Amir Locke. ... We need to trust those who have had experiences with bad outcomes and work together to make sure those outcomes never happen again."

McCarthy said she knew little about the POST board when Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell encouraged her to apply for it. "She is incredibly candid; she is really smart; she really understands the value of police and policing," Schnell said.

While deciding whether to apply, McCarthy reviewed POST board minutes and spotted the name of Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality and a frequent board critic. McCarthy put in a call to Gross.

"I asked her things [the board] should be doing," McCarthy said. "Where are the problems? Is there an appetite for change? We had a real good conversation. Michelle and I don't agree on everything, but I think at the end of the day we want the same things, and I applied."

Though not a POST board member, Gross has since been named to three board work groups and advisory committees, including the one that recommended the rule changes.

"The POST board is night and day different from what it used to be," Gross said. "They are much more willing to make changes. They understand they need to professionalize policing and they understand bad policing hurts the profession."

The proposed ban on belonging to white supremacist groups, criminal gangs or any extremist group is "a no-brainer," McCarthy said. "We want to assure Minnesotans that if it comes to light that the officer is involved in one of these groups, the state will investigate the behavior," McCarthy said.

McCarthy "is on the right side of history," said Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope. "She's been brave and courageous. She's been taking a lot of heat for doing the right thing."

He said state boards that license people in other professions have been far tougher in cracking down on improper conduct than the POST board has been on police.

Bill sparks debate

Though the new rules aren't yet official POST board policy, House DFLers included in this session's public safety bill a provision, giving legal sanction to the board's authority to revoke licenses whether or not an officer is convicted of a crime. The bill has been approved by the House but was still being negotiated this weekend with the Republican-led Senate.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, said he favored such a law because "another board cannot come in and undo state statute."

But Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, said the GOP caucus favors local control. He said expanding the unelected POST board's authority to revoke licenses "removes the responsibilities from mayors and city council members" as well as accountability to voters.

Regarding the provision on extremist groups, Limmer said he had "concerns from a constitutional perspective, freedom of speech."

"People have a right to associate," he said. "If it goes into effect, we will let the courts decide."

This story is part of a collaboration between the Star Tribune and FRONTLINE that includes the upcoming documentary, "Police on Trial," which premieres May 31 at 9 p.m. CT on PBS.

Matt Gillmer
VideoVideo (00:31): This is a trailer for the upcoming documentary, "Police on Trial," which premieres May 31 at 9 p.m. CT on PBS. The documentary is part of a collaboration between the Star Tribune and FRONTLINE.