Minnesota's police licensing board on Thursday agreed to pursue new rules for law enforcement responses to protests and a ban on officers affiliating with white supremacist groups.
The 16-member Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board approved both measures by unanimous votes amid an intense focus on the future of policing in Minnesota. They mirror proposals still pending at the state Legislature.
"Minnesota faces a moment of reckoning, where the interests and needs of many converge," Walz wrote in a letter to the board on Thursday. He and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, urged the changes as a way to rebuild police-community relations after the killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright.
"The watershed events of the last year make it clear that communities of color cannot go on like this. Police officers also cannot go on like this," wrote Walz. "While we all hope for change, history tells us that hope is not a strategy. The urgency and need for systemic reforms have never been greater."
The police response to protests in Brooklyn Center over Wright's fatal shooting by a police officer this month sparked outrage over the use of tear gas and rubber bullets and the treatment of journalists covering the demonstrations.
Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said that many agencies already have policies in place for responding to public assembly.
But he supported creating a statewide model policy that would give law enforcement leaders a "baseline."
"As we administer an oath, in most of our law enforcement organizations, to uphold and defend the Constitution, this is a way for us to really put on paper and really stand as a board … saying that we represent the Constitution's core values of what we are trying to do as an organization," Evans said.
Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy, who is the POST Board's chairwoman, also called for determining how complaints are handled.
The board's current policy is to refer complaints back to an individual officer's agency to take action.
"A policy without accountability doesn't help anybody," McCarthy said. "It's a pinkie swear at this point."
It will still be several months before the rule changes become official.
Once that happens, the board will adopt a model policy for law enforcement responses to public assemblies. Licensed officers and chiefs who violate their department's policies for protest response will face licensure action.
The rule change could resurface at the next board meeting in July, or McCarthy acknowledged that she could call a special meeting if the vetting process is completed sooner.
In approving a future ban on officers affiliating with white supremacist groups, the board agreed to first focus on what members deemed an urgent threat and suggested it could later broaden the scope of prohibited groups.
"There is no evidence to suggest that any extremist groups that have any other ideology than white supremacy are trying to embed themselves in law enforcement, continue to embed themselves in law enforcement and, not only that … to train other white supremacists," said McCarthy.
Minnesota DFL lawmakers have also proposed banning licensed officers from affiliating with white supremacist groups as part of a package of police reforms that Walz is urging legislators to pass this session.
In the GOP-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, promised to hold "fact-finding" hearings on policing bills and riot response.
He said this week that the first hearing could come next week but has on multiple occasions stopped short of promising that the Senate would pass any new legislation.
Justin Terrell, a POST Board member and executive director of the Minnesota Justice Research Center, framed the ban on white supremacist affiliation as righting something that "we haven't displayed the courage to reckon with in Minnesota."
"If law enforcement wants to earn my trust back or if I want to feel like I can trust law enforcement around my little Black boys that I'm raising, I would strongly recommend that the profession and this body adopt an anti-racist position and expel whatever seeds may be in the soil of law enforcement that has produced the racial disparities that we have seen today," Terrell said.
That Thursday's meeting — one of four scheduled this year — overlapped with Wright's memorial service was impossible for the board not to recognize.
Angela Rose Myers, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, delivered her virtual testimony in support of the rule changes from within the north Minneapolis church where Wright's service was held.
"At best, the present situation gives the appearance that the state and local agencies oppose free speech and public assembly," Myers said. "At worst, local communities are experiencing these responses as continuations of long-term and longstanding systemic violence that has been visited upon Black people in this country."
The sound of organ music in the background grew louder as Myers spoke.
"I hope it's not lost on anybody from where she is making this request," McCarthy said afterward.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755