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Mayors urge state lawmakers to make it easier to fire police officers

The mayors of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as suburbs, support eliminating authority of arbitrators.

MINNEAPOLIS – Leaders from at least six cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, demanded Thursday that state lawmakers eliminate the authority of outside arbitrators to “reverse or reduce” discipline taken against officers who use excessive force or otherwise misbehave in “egregious” ways.

The pleas came just three hours before the Minnesota House of Representatives met virtually on the floor of the state capitol as the week-long special session approaches a conclusion. 

To pitch the idea on a public platform, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey appeared in a news conference Thursday with Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, along with representatives from the neighboring cities of Bloomington, Golden Valley, Richfield and Brooklyn Center (St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter released a statement in support of eliminating arbitrators’ authority, along with the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association).

“We’ve seen officers who have brutally beat defenseless men then reinstated to the department to which we were previously terminated,” Mayor Frey said, before later adding: “I don’t think that you’re truly serious about reform, unless we’re putting this particular item on the table.”

It does not appear that state lawmakers are willing to go as far as the local leaders, however.

DFL Rep. Kaohly Her told KARE 11 that some due process must be preserved, which is why she supports reforming the arbitration process without eliminating its authority outright. 

She proposed a bill – included in the Police Accountability Act – that would create a new arbitration panel appointed by the governor. Those arbitrators would also need to undergo implicit bias training, which Her said would help fix a broken system.

“It, half the time, puts people back on the job that shouldn’t be there,” Rep. Her said during a committee meeting earlier this week. “And it can have dire consequences.”

But Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo said changes to arbitration can’t just target police, telling KARE 11 that he would not support any bill that doesn’t address all public employees.

“It’s difficult to make the case that we need to get bad cops off the street, but keep bad teachers in the classroom,” Garofalo said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Rep. Garofalo instead proposed a bill that would replace arbitrators for all public employees with an administrative law judge – a person “who doesn’t have a financial interest, and can make a fair, without-bias conclusion.”

As of 8:30 p.m. Thursday, no full vote had taken place on the Police Accountability Act that included arbitration reform. That specific proposal, from Rep. Her of the DFL, was not included in the five measures passed by the GOP-led Senate. A spokesperson for Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he’d be open to exploring arbitration reform and would present it to his caucus if it was sent as a separate bill.

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