Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
For too long, the Minnesota Peace Officers and Standards Training Board has lacked the authority that could bring real muscle to its effort to create statewide law enforcement standards.
The board did its best over the years, creating conduct guidelines and appropriate training. But unlike many professional licensing boards, it lacked the ability to revoke a police officer's license unless the officer had been convicted of committing a crime. That is and always was too high a bar.
Teachers, nurses, real estate agents and lawyers can all lose their licenses for violations of professional conduct that fall well short of convictions for an actual felony or gross misdemeanor.
Now the POST Board joins those ranks, able to revoke a license for serious violations of its carefully developed guidelines. Years of work have gone into this new standard, and it is entirely necessary if the state is to follow through on reforms intended to create a higher standard of law enforcement that uses appropriate measures to ensure public safety.
Minnesota gained worldwide notoriety in 2020 for police misconduct that resulted in the murder of George Floyd, when a veteran Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled his full weight onto Floyd's neck until Floyd died. Incredibly, even after Chauvin was arrested and charged, the POST Board wasn't able to pull his license until he was convicted.
A more recent example of the need for discipline came when Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson crashed a county-owned vehicle in December 2021 after reaching speeds of 126 mph while drunk and lied to authorities about the facts in the case. Hutchinson refused to resign, and it was not until nearly a year later, in November 2022, that the POST Board suspended his license for 30 days while he was already on indefinite medical leave.
Under state law, when his term was finished, Hutchinson was allowed to return to his old job as a sergeant with Metro Transit — something that would not have been possible had the board revoked his license. He was fired from Metro Transit earlier this year for other infractions.
Law enforcement officers are given immense power and authority, backed up by weapons. Like anyone, they need to be held accountable for their actions, preferably by those who know the dangers and pressures they face every day. The POST Board can and should be that entity.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who prosecuted Chauvin, told an editorial writer that higher standards are essential to improving law enforcement as a whole. "No professional board has to wait for a member to actually be convicted of a crime before issuing discipline," he said. In Hutchinson's case, he said, the sheriff was given a one-month suspension of his license "when it didn't matter anymore. That's not what builds trust with the public."
Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman told an editorial writer that the new POST Board authority is reflective of where the Legislature wants to see reforms in policing go. "We knew last year that the Minnesota POST Board was willing to do more. They knew officers like Chauvin had created a problem in their profession. I knew exactly what we wanted to do was to fund law enforcement and crime prevention and get at police misconduct because the whole nation is wrestling with that."
Another important change adopted earlier this year was the POST Board's ban on officers belonging to hate groups. After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Ellison noted, "We know that these groups deliberately try to infiltrate law enforcement groups, so it does matter."
In a strong show of unity, the POST Board in February voted unanimously to ban individuals who belong to or support white supremacist or extremist groups from obtaining a law enforcement license.
The POST Board, with much-needed help from the Legislature, deserves praise for taking positive steps to reinforce the high standards of ethical conduct that will produce the best law enforcement officers.
Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson, Patricia Lopez, John Rash and D.J. Tice. Star Tribune Opinion staff members Maggie Kelly and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune CEO and Publisher Steve Grove serves as an adviser to the board.