In one case, a St. Paul police officer was convicted of drunken driving twice and had been disciplined by his department at least 15 times for offenses including excessive force, improper conduct, unbecoming conduct and preventable accidents. Yet he’s working as a police officer today.
And in Minneapolis, after a cop brutally assaulted his then-wife, he plea bargained the charge and was convicted of disorderly conduct. He was fired by his chief but challenged the dismissal. He was reinstated by an arbitrator and remains an officer in the department.
Such offenses should be grounds for termination. But those cases are among dozens in which Minnesota peace officers have stayed on the job. As public servants sworn to uphold and enforce the law, they should be held to a higher standard. The state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board and the Legislature should change oversight rules on officer discipline and license revocation.
A recent Star Tribune series, “Shielded by the badge,” found that more than 500 officers have been convicted of serious crimes in Minnesota since 1995, but that relatively few have faced discipline by the POST Board. Some were fired or allowed to resign. But because their POST-issued licenses remained intact, they could work for other Minnesota law enforcement agencies.
More than 140 are still on the job after being convicted of offenses such as drunken driving, disorderly conduct, misdemeanor assault, trespassing, making harassing phone calls and reckless discharge of a firearm. Off-duty behavior led to most of the convictions; officers are seldom prosecuted for misconduct on the job.
In fairness, the 500 convictions represent a small number of the state’s more than 10,000 licensed officers. And when the POST Board was established as an independent regulatory body several decades ago, it’s role was largely to set broad standards and provide training. It can pull licenses for the most serious of felonies — such as murder. The shortlist of crimes the board considers grounds for discipline or revocation has not been revised since 1995.
That must change. As the news stories reported, Minnesota has fallen far behind other states on police discipline. Minnesota ranks 38th in license revocation among 44 states with comparable licensing.
Prompted by the news stories, the POST Board’s executive director said there is “potential for some change” to the list of crimes that trigger review for discipline. The POST Board chair and a state legislator went further, wisely calling for a review with the goal of tightening oversight and making the necessary changes.
During that review, lawmakers and the board should also act to make their proceedings more transparent. In Minnesota, potential discipline cases are reviewed by a three-person complaints committee, two of whom must be sworn officers. Those meetings are closed to the public, and the committee’s decisions are not published except for a mention in the board’s regular minutes.
When convicted peace officers escape consequences for breaking the law, public trust and confidence in police suffer. The POST Board review should move quickly, and subsequent rule changes should send a clear signal that Minnesota won’t give a pass to cops who violate that trust.