BCA’s Force Investigation Unit represents good public policy
The civil unrest following the death of George Floyd ushered in a variety of demands for criminal justice reforms across the state and nation – some sound, others not.
The formation of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s (BCA) Force Investigation Unit represents good public policy by ensuring consistent, quality investigations, providing for transparency, and ultimately improving public confidence in law enforcement.
In 2020, the Legislature passed statute 299C.80 which mandated the BCA form the independent Use of Force Investigations Unit (FIU) to conduct officer-involved death investigations, criminal sexual conduct allegations involving peace officers, and conflict of interest cases involving peace officers.
In 2021 the legislature added additional duties to the unit to include the investigation of criminal sexual conduct allegations involving Minnesota National Guard members. In 2023 the Legislature made the FIU a permanent entity, removing the original sunset date of August 1, 2024.
While the Legislature mandated the creation of the FIU, the statute didn’t mandate that the FIU investigate every deadly force case, only those where an agency request it does. As of 2023, requesting the FIU conduct such investigations has become the norm. Read more about the FIU and the unit’s activity, to include its annual reports, found here.
The legislature has followed through by fully funding the FIU, which isn’t always the case with legislative mandates. The funding ($4.42 million/year) has allowed the BCA to create a full time FIU that now consists of 16 agents and supervisors, 2 Criminal Intelligence Analysts, a Victim, Family and Community Relations Coordinator, a Public Information Officer, 2 Digital Media Examiners, and a Laboratory Firearms Examiner.
Having a dedicated unit of this size is unique and puts Minnesota ahead of most other others in offering such a resource across the state.
The formation of the FIU solidified a best practice that Minnesota law enforcement had recognized the value of decades ago – requesting an outside agency to conduct investigations of local agency officers involved in deadly force or other incidents that would constitute a conflict of interest.
This shift occurred in Hennepin County in the late 1990’s, and as a result the Sheriff’s Office where I served as a detective, was requested dozens of times through the 2000’s to conduct investigations of local law enforcement’s use of deadly force. This was a good move for law enforcement in Hennepin County in the early 2000’s and the FIU is a good move for Minnesota in the 2020’s.
We recognized the importance of pre-planning and training of our detective unit to ensure we were equipped with the knowledge and expertise to investigate such cases.
The process of investigating deadly force used by an officer, or any other allegations against an officer, requires special care to ensure information and evidence is collected properly and not in violation of the officer’s rights. Officers have the same rights as anyone else, and cannot be compelled to incriminate themselves, so training and expertise is required to understand and carry out the taking of statements and gathering of evidence in a manner that doesn’t violate these rights.
Having a dedicated FIU in 2023 offers this experience and expertise statewide and ensures consistency, impartiality, accuracy, accountability, and public confidence in the investigative process. The FIU is a resource that benefits us all – law enforcement and the community.
A strength of the FIU is not only in the number of agents dedicated to the mission, but the support elements such as dedicated firearms and digital media experts. Probably the most beneficial support resources are the full-time victim, family, and community relations coordinator, and the full-time public information officer.
These positions are invaluable and ensure information is shared with stakeholders, as appropriate, and within statutorily mandated timelines. This process ensures transparency and often helps avoid misinformation and speculation from developing in communities which can lead to unrest and a further deterioration of public trust.
Another strength of the FIU is its effort to educate and prepare law enforcement throughout the state. This effort helps agencies across the state develop policy and procedure that ensures a proper and professional investigation is completed upon request.
It also has helped officers by preparing them for what to expect if they should become the subject of an investigation. That knowledge has led to officers gaining confidence in the process, rather than distrust.
BCA leadership should be commended for their diligence in forming the FIU and for ensuring a process of continual improvement.
Leadership travelled and spoke with agencies across the country to gauge best practices. They also listened to the concerns of Minnesotans, then put together a unit that took all this information into consideration. As it stands in 2023, the FIU is a model for use of force investigative units in the US.
The FIU is building trust in both the law enforcement community and the broader community.
However, there is some concern in law enforcement circles that the FIU is an arm of progressive prosecutors and the Attorney General’s Office. This is unwarranted and untrue.
The FIU is an independent unit that collects facts and evidence in an unbiased process, then turns that information over to the appropriate prosecutor without recommendation. The prosecutor makes their decision based on yet another independent review of the facts and evidence.
While officers across the state are learning to trust the expertise and professionalism of the FIU, the “jury remains out” when it comes to trusting some elected prosecutors, especially those who ran on a “dismantle the police” platform.
Just as the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office provided a valuable resource to Hennepin County law enforcement in the 2000’s, the BCA’s FIU is now providing that resource on a statewide level in 2023.
The FIU is an example of progress in public safety that has helped law enforcement begin rebuilding trust and confidence following the civil unrest of the early 2020’s.
(Photo Credit: Kare 11)