Like all other Minnesotans, people of color and indigenous legislators recognize that promoting public safety is a core function of the state legislature. We recognize that effective policing serves a central role in providing for the public safety of our neighborhoods. We all have spoken of the appreciation we have for their service and sacrifice.
However, many of us have also spoken about the often-strained relationship between communities of color and law enforcement and its negative effect on public safety. The Governor’s Council on Law Enforcement and Community Relations (GCLECR), formed after the tragic death of Philando Castile, clearly documents this rift and its negative impact on public safety in its 2017 report. But, Indigenous and communities of color aren’t alone in having a strained relationship with law enforcement. Advocates for domestic violence victims, sexual assault victims, and those with mental illness have also shared similar concerns.
The need to promote public safety while responding to that distrust is why we support the language of HF 2709 found in this year’s Public Safety Omnibus bill that would provide state policy makers, local elected officials, and chief law enforcement officers with the data transparency needed to promote professional excellence and build community trust.
The GCLECR found that, “Mutual trust between police and community members is a key tenet in maintaining public safety and ensuring effective policing.” This formed the basis for the state’s decision to appropriate 6 million dollars a year over the course of four years to fund police implicit bias, crises intervention, and conflict mediation training. Most police and community advocates saw this investment as a positive first step to repairing a damaged relationship. However, both parties recognized this alone would not resolve issues of mistrust.
The next step however is to collect data to assess the effectiveness of this training in contributing to better police/community relationships. Currently, there is a wealth of public data relating to police misconduct and community relations however, much of it is locked away in individualized spreadsheets and physical files at the 448 law enforcement agencies across the state. Without an easier way to access this wealth of data on public complaints, types of discipline, and how officers’ conduct changes over time, it is impossible for policy makers and everyday Minnesota taxpayers to ensure the state is providing for the type of training and administrative systems that ultimately increase both public trust and public safety.
The HF 2709 language in the Public Safety Omnibus would require law enforcement agencies receiving state training funds to report to the POST Board public complaints and serious cases of misconduct such as sexual harassment, breaking the law, and or integrity violations. The data will indicate whether complaints were sustained, and whether it was internally generated by a law enforcement officer. Although this web portal would only show information to the public that is currently classified as public, an academic research group will have access to this data in order to format it for public use and for internal law enforcement use.
The goal is to have a rich database that can be used to provide recommendations to police agencies and legislators on how to enhance police practice behaviors that in turn can create greater community trust, better serve victims, and also better serve the needs of peace officers as they serve in a highly stressful profession. This is the least we can do to both ensure our training investments are effective and our public safety is promoted.
Although this proposal does not enjoy police support yet, we are hopeful it will soon. We understand the author, Representative Mariani, was mindful in listening to suggestions peace officers offered on this legislation. It is notable that throughout several hearings and meetings, police representatives did not raise any public safety concerns with this proposal. Instead, they primarily cited data protection concerns. Rep. Mariani has repeatedly testified to his willingness to provide our law enforcement officers the same type of tight data protections provided for other government employee discipline records to ensure they are not inappropriately made public. However, we as a caucus do not believe these concerns alone are an adequate justification to avoid moving forward with such a necessary and transformational reform.
Public safety rests on mutual trust. Transparency is necessary to build trust. Minnesotans should be able to agree that gathering and publishing public data on complaints and discipline from those who are receiving training money on implicit bias, crises intervention, and conflict mediation is a reasonable step to take before reauthorizing those funds. So, in an effort to provide for the type of transparency that would improve police community relations and ultimately improve public safety for all Minnesotans, the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus will not support any legislation that continues state training dollars without the creation of a central digital repository of police discipline and public complaints of the kind found in the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Omnibus.
Senator Foung Hawj, Co-Chair POCI Caucus
Representative Rena Moran, Co-Chair POCI Caucus
Representative Carlos Mariani
Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein
Representative Fue Lee
Senator Melisa Franzen
Senator Patricia Torres-Ray
Representative Jamie Becker-Finn
Senator Bobby Joe Champion
Representative Ruth Richarson
Senator Jeff Hayden
Representative Samantha Vang
Representative Tou Xiong
Representative Alice Mann
Representative Aisha Gomez
Representative Hodan Hassan
Representative Kaohly Her
Representative Mohamud Noor
Representative Jay Xiong