Here is why the new policing bill may not provide the much needed reform in policing

Yesterday, Governor Tim Walz signed a police accountability bill into law. The bill was passed by the legislature earlier this week and is intended to curb police violence in the state of Minnesota.

Among other things, the bill:

(1) Bans the use of chokeholds

(2) Bans taxpayer-funded “warrior-style training”

(3)Imposes a duty for officers to intervene when another officer is using excessive force

(4) Allows cities to provide incentives that encourage officers to stay in the neighborhoods that they police.

(5) Calls for the creation of a central database on officer misconduct

(6) Calls for increased training emphasizing on response to mental health crisis

Additionally, the bill has called for the creation of an Independent Use of Force Investigations Unity with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (CBA). The unit will be tasked with conducting officer-involved death investigations. To aid this duty, the bill requires a chief law enforcement officer of an agency to report information on use force incidents that resulted in death or serious injury to the CBA.

The has also made changes to the arbitration process for police officers. According to the bill, 6 or more arbitrators will be appointed to a roaster. An arbitrator seeking appointment will receive 12 hours of training on issues ranging from racism and bias to the daily experience of officers. Once a grievance has been filed the Bureau of Mediation Services will assign an arbitrator from the roaster on a rotation. Grieving parties will not be involved in the process of picking an arbitrator.

According to Governor Walz,

This bipartisan piece of legislation moves us toward a critical step towards criminal justice reform. These critical reforms are long overdue — they are meant to strengthen transparency and community oversight.

But while on the surface the bill appears to be a big step, in reality, it is not. This bill has missed most of its vital targets and left things more or less the same.

The bill uses the same vague language as the current “use of force policy”

The Minneapolis use of force policy gives provisions of what constitutes reasonable use of force. The bill has not made substantial changes to the detail in the policy. For instance, before the bill was passed, police officers had a duty to intervene in the event that force was being used unnecessarily. This shows that the issue may not be with the provisions in the policy, but rather its enforcement.

Additionally, the ban on chokeholds also comes with exceptions regarding reasonability. The police Accountability bill, for instance,  “prohibits a peace officer from using certain neck restraints, unless section 609.066 authorizes the use of deadly force to protect the peace officer or another from death or great bodily harm”. And according to section 609.066, the use of force is only necessary in three scenarios:

(1) to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm;

(2) to effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape, of a person whom the peace officer knows or has reasonable grounds to believe has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving the use or threatened use of deadly force; or

(3) to effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape, of a person whom the officer knows or has reasonable grounds to believe has committed or attempted to commit a felony if the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or great bodily harm if the person’s apprehension is delayed.

The issue here is that,  different people have different ideas of what “reasonable” means. So this language is not effectively restrictive because police officers use the existence of this kind of language to evade accountability. This bill has added to the same type of issue with vague language.

Most Minnesota Police departments already do not practice chokeholds

After the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis Department moved to ban the use of chokeholds and restraints. What came to light with the passage of this seemingly good law was the fact that it is not that common for police departments to use chokeholds or restraints. Most police departments around Minnesota had stopped using chokeholds a long time ago because of how dangerous they can be.

So while this change seems like a move in the right direction, it certainly points to the fact that the bill has focused on nonimportant issues. The issue with chokeholds is not a state issue, it may only be an issue with the Minneapolis Police Department.

Officers can still independently seek out “warrior-style training”

While the bill prohibits taxpayer-funded warrior style training, it does not entirely ban police officers from accessing this type of training. The bill additionally, does not discourage other independent agencies like unions from providing this type of training. Instead, the bill focuses on the funding aspect. In fact, in 2014 when Mayor Jacob Frey moved to ban warrior-style training, the unions provided their own training. So there is still a possibility officers can get this type of training as long as it is not funded by taxpayers.

The bill does not reign in unions

Unions are a big hindrance to reform and have a huge influence on policing. This bill however does not touch on that. In fact, if unions want to provide police officers with “warrior style training” they can go ahead. Apart from only preventing unions from picking arbitrators, the bill does nothing else to reduce the scope and influence of unions.

The truth of the matter is, however, the power of unions goes way beyond being able to choose arbitrators. Unions have power over the police contracts. And contracts set the tone for policing but also for disciplinary hearings. Through contracts, “police unions may put in provisions that intentionally increase the procedural burden or burden of proof that departments have to show before they can discipline or fire officers“.

In addition, unions also provide provisions that undermine or counteract any disciplinary effort. For instance, the Minneapolis current police contract has a provision that allows police officers accused of on-the-job-misconduct to go on a paid administrative leave. The amount of time can range from weeks to months, which technically sends a message that anyone caught of misconduct will not face consequences. “In one notable case, an officer who was initially suspended for improper behavior spent nearly 10 months on leave and was paid $54,450.53, before being fired, city records show”.

Additionally, unions have power over the disciplinary process. Unions may also have provisions that delay interrogation of officers suspected of misconduct, provide access to evidence before the interview, limit anonymous complaints a department may accept against an officer, and limit civilian oversight. All of this restricts the jurisdiction that departments have over officer discipline.

The arbitration process is unchanged

The main reason that a lot of police officers get reinstated is not because of a lack of experienced arbitrators. Police officers get reinstated. for one, because Unions appeal to labor rights heavily instead of public safety and places excessive proof of burden to prove their officers are unfit for a job.

But even when they are unfit for a job, the Minneapolis Police department has a provision that requires the departments to remove records of misconduct from records of Police Officers. This often means only positive work history is used. This increases the likelihood that a police officer will be reinstated or have their sentence reduce.

But the bill does not touch on any of these major issues.

Research suggests that requiring officers to live where they police does not improve policing outcomes

Disregarding the fact that police departments or cities may not have the funds to incentivize police officers to live in cities they police, there is no evidence suggesting this approach helps.

According to USA Today

no recent research shows residency requirements improve relations between cops and the residents they’re sworn to protect.

“Throughout our research, we have never encountered a shred of evidence that requiring or incentivizing police officers to live in the communities in which they work has any positive effect on the quality of policing,” Communities United Against Police Brutality, a Twin Cities-based organization, says on its website.