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Walz, Democratic leaders call on Senate GOP to pass police reform bills

Gov. Tim Walz called the bills put forward by Senate Republicans "weak sauce" in a news conference aimed at promoting the Democrats' police reform package.

ST PAUL, Minn. — With a ticking clock on the Minnesota legislature's special session, state and local Democratic leaders are urging Senate Republicans to pass sweeping police reform bills.

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and the massive global protests that followed have put police reform at the front of the legislative agenda in Minnesota.

The POCI (People of Color and Indigenous) Caucus in the Democratic-controlled Minnesota House have put forward a package of three bills that include more aggressive police reforms aimed at systemic changes to the structure. The GOP-controlled Senate threw those out and introduced its own bills that Gov. Tim Walz called "weak sauce" on Thursday.

Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and POCI leaders held a news conference Thursday calling on Senate Republicans to act before the GOP-imposed deadline of Friday on ending the special session.

"So far we're still in gridlock," Walz said. "We keep hearing that legislators in the Senate, that the majority wants to go home tomorrow. Minnesotans want them to do the work."

The governor said that it would be "unacceptable" if a police reform package failed to go through on Juneteenth, the commemoration of the end of U.S. slavery. The bills will be taken up on the House floor at 5 p.m. Thursday.

"If destiny and history is not raining down on Minnesota today and tomorrow, I don't know what is," Walz said. "The business as usual and the weak sauce legislation to get out of town and pretend like you made change ends now."

Senate Republicans have largely painted Floyd's death as a failure by Minneapolis city leaders and the individual officers involved, calling them "bad apples."

Tuesday on the Senate floor, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, an Alexandria Republican and former sheriff, said, "I will not vote to hamper the good law enforcement professionals out there who are now going to be affected by one or two bad apples. Those bad apples, by the way, are now arrested, in jail."

Rep. Carlos Mariani, chair of the Minnesota House Public Safety Committee, said at a Thursday news conference, "It's not the apples, it's the tree. And the tree doesn't have its roots only in Minneapolis, it has sprouted all across our nation."

Mariani said the bills put forth by the POCI Causus address the roots of the evil. "The American people want a new, healthy tree," he said. "And more of the same means someone else's Black beloved will die at the hands of a state-licensed, government public servant. That will happen again."

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The Democratic POCI-introduced package includes:

  • Reforming the statute that defines when use of deadly force is justified
  • The creation of a new office within the Department of Public Safety to fund alternatives to policing
  • Reforming the arbitration process and creating a new frame of accountability for officers with a Police-Community Relations Council
  • Restoring some voting rights
  • Funding "community healers" trained to respond to oppression-induced trauma
  • Giving the Attorney General jurisdiction over prosecuting police-involved deaths, and creating a separate department within the BCA to investigate police-involved cases
  • Expanding de-escalation and mental health crisis training
  • Prohibiting warrior-style training and chokeholds

The Senate Republicans' bills would:

  • Enhance data collection of officer-involved shootings
  • Increase counseling for officers involved in fatal incidents
  • Increase funding for law enforcement training
  • Instruct the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board to develop statewide policies that ban chokeholds, clarify an officer's duty to intercede, and reinforce the sanctity of human life in use-of-force rules

Rep. Rena Moran, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said she is "insulted" by the bills the GOP put forward.

"I have not yet been able to get to the place where I can see police officers as peace officers, and that’s sad," she said. "But I’m not the only one. There are so many, many, many more who do not see officers that patrol our communities as peace officers."

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Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Attorney General Keith Ellison were part of a working group that provided the report forming the foundation of the POCI caucus' proposed legislation. They traveled greater Minnesota talking with community members and police officers, and held listening sessions with a wide range of people.

"Before George Floyd breathed his last breath, we were working a year before to try to prevent that tragedy from ever happening," Ellison said. "This report is prescient, and if we follow it and implement it we can save the lives of people, police officers, community both."

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, in an afternoon news conference, maintained that most people he's spoken to are happy with their local police departments. He also pointed to what he perceived as failures in Minneapolis, which he said Gov. Walz and DFL leaders are not addressing in their proposals.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo held a separate news conference later Thursday to call on the legislature to specifically end the authority of POST Board arbitrators to reinstate fired officers who have engaged in egregious conduct. They were joined by other mayors from adjoining suburbs.

"Until we have the ability to shift the people, to get and retain good officers into the department and to get officers that do not subscribe to our chief’s mentality of integrity and compassion out of the department, we will forever be hamstrung," Frey said.

Arradondo said, as he has publicly stated before, that the arbitration process is the most "debilitating" factor in his ability to lead the department.

"When egregious misconduct presents itself, where a chief of police in this state deems it necessary that that person no longer should be serving in a uniform, or wearing the badge protecting the people, that decision by a chief should stand," Arradondo said.

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Kelly McCarthy, the new chair of the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board, also joined the governor's news conference earlier in the day to voice a commitment to "major change on a systematic level."

"We have to move forward," McCarthy said. "To move back, or the status quo, is fear and death for our Black and Brown citizens."

McCarthy said the POST Board is committed to working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

"I often hear, 'Where are all the good cops in this?'" she said. "The good cops are asking for the legislature to come together and give us clear rules and expectations and let us meet those rules and those expectations and I think you will be surprised how much we can do when we all work together."