A state task force is pushing sweeping recommendations aimed at reducing police shootings, from requiring de-escalation training and boosting mental health resources for officers to establishing an independent unit to investigate cases of deadly force.
The recommendations announced Monday come after more than a year of discussions and public hearings with community leaders, law enforcement and prosecutors. But the recommendations, which divided members of the task force, will require state funding and action from the Legislature to be implemented.
"We are not going to let these recommendations just sit on a shelf and not go anywhere," said Attorney General Keith Ellison, who joined with Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington last year to seek ways to address police shootings before they happen.
They announced the 16-member task force in July, including members of law enforcement from urban and rural areas, state legislators, union representatives and members of the community who lost family members to deadly force by police. The group held four public hearings before landing on a list of 28 recommendations.
There were 24 police shootings in 2019, including 15 that were fatal. Last May, Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk in 2017.
The three-week trial renewed criticism about whether state law enforcement agencies, particularly the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), are impartial when they handle investigations into deadly encounters involving officers.
One key recommendation would create an independent unit within the BCA to investigate all cases of deadly force. Harrington, who oversees the BCA, said officials want to make sure there are "no potential or visible conflict of interests" that could jeopardize the integrity of an investigation.
They recommend increasing funding for the BCA so investigators can be dispatched quickly after police shootings. More than 60% of deadly force cases over the past five years took place in greater Minnesota, Harrington said. The task force also wants to increase the power of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board to allow them to suspend or revoke an officer's license at the request of their supervising officer, or sheriff.
Clarence Castile, uncle of Philando Castile, who was shot by police during a traffic stop in 2016, served on the task force and supports a recommendation that the Legislature review the impact of police body cameras by 2022. He said he wants lawmakers to recommend the use of body cameras by law enforcement agencies statewide.
"It's important that an officer has as many tools on his tool belt to do his job in a good way and to protect themselves and protect the community," Castile said.
The recommendations touch on how law enforcement should handle people having mental health crises, as well as the mental health of the officers themselves. The task force asked state lawmakers to put more funding into resources for mental health and wellness for first responders and police.
"A police officer at 10 a.m. can go to a shooting, two hours later they're dealing with a baby death, and then a fight," said Brian Peters, executive Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. "There's just a lot of pressure that the men and women of law enforcement are facing these days, and there needs to be some type of support."
But a number of the recommendations are concerning for members of law enforcement who served on the task force. Peters said opposes a recommendation to establish an ombudsperson to review closed cases of police shootings that come under criticism from members of the community.
"We have a system, we have a court system," he said. "When a case goes through the courts, to me, that is whether something was justified or not."
Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson said some of the recommendations for new training and technology could put a financial burden on law enforcement agencies.
Harrington said there's no price tag for all of the things the task force recommends, but he's hoping to get traction this session from lawmakers looking at ways to handle a $1.3 billion projected budget surplus.
Briana Bierschbach 651-925-5042 Twitter: @bbierschbach