Regardless of the circumstances, police-involved deadly shootings almost always create lingering pain, anger and frustration. That’s what a state task force heard repeatedly as it studied the issues and talked with Minnesotans across the state.
Released last month, the group’s recommendations are a good starting point to developing more compassionate, accountable and transparent responses when a citizen or officer is killed. The panel rightly calls for improved officer training, the use of liaisons to work with relatives of those killed, and having the Legislature research and evaluate the impact of body-worn cameras by 2022.
The 18-member panel was convened by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and the state Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. After holding listening sessions across the state, the Minnesota Working Group on Police-Involved Deadly Force Encounters issued a report with 28 recommendations and 33 action steps.
Since 2015, there have been more than 100 deadly force encounters with law enforcement in the state; 60% of them occurred in Greater Minnesota. Of the total, 30% to 50% involved people who were in a mental health crisis or had a disability. In response, the task force recommends having more mental health professionals participate in co-responder or crisis-reponse teams.
“Deadly force encounters are among the hardest moments a family, an officer, a law-enforcement agency, and a community can live through,” Ellison said. “There have been lots of opinions about why they happen. We wanted to get beyond opinion and polarization to concrete recommendations and action steps that, if we implement them, will reduce them.”
The Star Tribune Editorial Board supported the effort to collect information from around Minnesota when Harrington and Ellison launched the effort last July. The sessions were sometimes emotional and difficult. Protesters and family members of someone who had been killed by police temporarily shut down one meeting, but they were persuaded to come back and continue the conversation.
Panel member and St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin told an editorial writer that not everyone in the group was in “100% agreement” about all of the recommendations. Legitimate concerns were expressed about whether local agencies would be able to make recommended changes without state help. And there was disagreement about a proposal to create a special unit within the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate deadly force cases.
Rubin said most of the recommendations reflect the group’s goal to keep citizens and officers safer. He also said the state should help fund recommended changes, including mental health resources for officers and first responders. The panel didn’t offer a total price tag but said members would work with the Legislature, the criminal justice system and the community.
The task force should be commended for its work. Reducing the number of officer-involved shootings — and the damage they cause — is a worthy goal.