Minnesota Legislature Adopts Significant Police Reform

Early this morning, July 21, the Minnesota Legislature in Special Session adopted a significant police reform bill, the Minnesota Police Accountability Act. Just before midnight, the House did so, 102-29, and the Senate did the same a few hours later, 60-7 and sent the bill to Governor Tim Walz for his promised signature.[1]

Summary of the Act[2]

The House’s Research Memo about the Act listed the following provisions:

  • “Critical incident stress management teams and public safety peer counseling.
  • Investigatory reform.
  • Police residency reform.
  • Banning chokeholds and certain neck restraints.
  • Use of force reform.
  • Use of force reporting.
  • POST Board reform and citizen engagement.
  • Prohibiting warrior-style training.
  • POST Board model policies.
  • Mental health and crisis intervention training.
  • Mandatory autism training.
  • Requiring the duty to intervene and report.
  • Arbitration reform.
  • Peace officer training assistance funding extension.”

Here are that Research Memo’s summaries of some of these provisions in light of issues raised by the police killing of George Floyd on February 25th.

Prohibiting Chokeholds and Certain Neck Restraints (sections 7 and 8). “Prohibits a peace officer from using [chokeholds and] certain neck restraints, unless section 609.066 authorizes the use of deadly force to protect the peace officer or another from death or great bodily harm. With the exception described above, officers will no longer be able to use chokeholds, they will not be able to tie all of the person’s limbs together behind the person’s back to render the person immobile, and they cannot secure a person in any way that results in transporting the person face down in a vehicle. The only time a peace officer can restrict free movement of a person’s neck or head is to protect the peace officer or another from imminent harm. For the purposes of this section, chokeholds are defined as “a method by which a person applies sufficient pressure to a person to make breathing difficult or impossible, and includes but is not limited to any pressure to the neck, throat, or windpipe that may prevent or hinder breathing, or reduce the intake of air.” It also means, “applying pressure to a person’s neck on either side of the windpipe, but not to the windpipe itself, to stop the flow of blood to the brain via the carotid arteries.”

Prohibiting Warrior-Style Training (Section 12). “Prohibits the use of warrior-style training by law enforcement. It also states that the POST [Board of Police Officer Standards and Training] may not certify a continuing education course that includes warrior-style training; the Board may not grant continuing education credit to a peace officer for a course that includes warrior-style training; and the Board may not reimburse a law enforcement agency or a peace officer for a course that includes warrior-style training. Warrior-style training is defined in . . . this section as training for peace officers that dehumanizes people or encourages aggressive conduct by peace officers during encounters with others in a manner that deemphasizes the value of human life or constitutional rights, the result of which increases a peace officer’s likelihood or willingness to use deadly force.”

Requiring the Duty To Intervene and Report (Section 21). “This section lays out that peace officers, regardless of tenure or rank, must intercede when (1) present and observing another peace officer using force, in violation of MS, Section 609.066, Subd. 2, or otherwise beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstance to prevent the use of unreasonable force; and (2) is physically and verbally in a position to do so. Lastly, this section establishes a duty to report excessive use of force incidents in writing to the chief law enforcement officer of the agency that employs the reporting officer and provides that failure to comply with either duty is grounds for POST Board discipline under the Board’s rules.”

Police Residency Reform (Section 6). “This section allows cities or counties to offer incentives to encourage a person hired as an officer to be a resident of that city or county. . . .”

Arbitration reform (Sections 22 and 24). “This section modifies how, and which arbitrators are used in peace officer grievance arbitration by establishing an arbitrator selection procedure. These changes apply to all peace officer grievance arbitrations for written disciplinary action, discharge, or termination, and must be included in the grievance procedure for all collective bargaining agreements covering peace officers negotiated on or after the enactment date.”

‘Once a peace officer grievance is filed, the Bureau of Mediation Services assigns or appoints an arbitrator from the roster, on a rotation through the roster alphabetically ordered by last name. All parties involved cannot be involved in selecting the arbitrator. The arbitrator or panel will decide the grievance, and the decision is binding subject to provisions of the Uniform Arbitration Act (Ch. 572B). The changes made to the arbitration process in this section only applies to peace officer grievances and do not apply to other public employees. Peace officers cannot agree to a collective bargaining agreement or grievance arbitration selection procedure that is not consistent with the changes in this section.”

“The Bureau of Mediation Services, . . .in consultation with community and law enforcement stakeholders, is required to appoint a roster of at least 6 qualified arbitrators. Any arbitrator seeking appointment to this roster must complete six hours of training in culture competency, racism, implicit bias, and recognize the value in community diversity and cultural differences. They will also be required complete six hours of training related to daily experiences of police officers The Bureau of Mediation Services may adopt rules establishing training requirements for the pool of arbitrators.”

Other Provisions. The Act also improves data collection around deadly force encounters, creates a new state unit to investigate those cases, and boosts funding for crisis intervention training for police.

Reactions to the New Act[3]

Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), the author of the bill and chair of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Division, after the House passage, said, ““Today, we’re beginning to make the overdue changes Minnesotans have been demanding to help ensure no more lives are lost due to police violence. By passing this bill into law, we’re taking the first steps toward major changes to hold police officers accountable for harmful acts, and we are committed to continuing our work for safer communities. It wasn’t safe for George Floyd or for Philando Castile, and they deserved a better way to police that builds community.”

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (Rep.) said, ““We’ve never stopped working on this, whether we were in session or out of session. That’s something we all felt was important.”

Senator Jeff Hayden (DFL), who represents the district where police killed Floyd, said the Act fails to provide “robust police accountability measures and transformative criminal justice” while Senator Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Minneapolis) voted against the bill because, she said, it “is not actually the bill that communities of color want.”

Upon passage, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz tweeted the following:

  • ‪”George Floyd’s death brought the urgent need for meaningful police reform into sharp focus.”
  • “Last night, the Legislature passed bipartisan police accountability and reform measures. This is a critical step toward justice.”
  • “But this is only the beginning. The work does not end today.”
  • “Everyone deserves to feel safe and protected by police. I look forward to signing these long-overdue reforms to strengthen transparency and community oversight, ban chokeholds and warrior training, expand de-escalation training for officers, and reduce the use of deadly force.”
  • “Thank you to the communities of color and the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, who have led this conversation and fought tirelessly for change.”

Conclusion

 Congratulations to Representative Mariani for being the lead author of this bill and to all the State Senators and Representatives for persistently negotiating and compromising to produce this important reform of policing in Minnesota.

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[1] Bierschbach, Minnesota lawmakers pass sweeping package of police accountability measures, StarTribune (July 21, 2020); Mearhoff, Minnesota lawmakers advance police accountability measures 8 weeks after Floyd’s death, Twin Cities Pioneer Press (July 21, 2020); MPR, Legislature passes policing bill, ends special session, MPR News (July 21, 2020); Assoc. Press, Minnesota Lawmakers Ban Neck Restraints After Floyd’s Death, N.Y. Times (July 21, 2020); Bella, Minnesota passes police accountability measures, including banning chokeholds, two months after George Floyd’s death, Wash. Post (July 21, 2020); Orenstein & Callaghan, The Legislature just passed a police reform bill. What it does—and doesn’t do—to reshape law enforcement in Minnesota, MINNPOST (July 21, 2020); Cook, House, Senate agree to compromise
police reform. Minn. H. Rep.(July 21, 2020).

[2] Minnesota Legislature, Research Memo: HF 1 (Marlani), The Minnesota Police Accountability Act [July 2020); HF1 Minnesota Police Accountability Act (1st Engrossment)(July 21, 2020).

[3] Mariani, RELEASE: Minnesota House Passes Police Accountability Act (July 20, 2020); Governor Tim Walz, Tweet on Passage of Minnesota Police Accountability Act, facebook.com/GovTimWalz/ (July 21, 2020).