ST. PAUL — A state workgroup dedicated to reducing the number of deadly force encounters between Minnesotans and police officers has seen a number of its policy recommendations passed into law in recent months, but its work will continue.
Established in 2019 by Attorney General Keith Ellison and Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, the 18-member work group met virtually Thursday, Feb. 25, to discuss its work over the past year and a half, and what more they’d like to do moving forward.
“This is not like a football game where there's an opening whistle and then the clock runs out,” Ellison said Thursday. “This doesn't have a finite end. We’re working on justice and we’re going to keep working on it until it’s done.”
The group was established nearly a year before George Floyd died May 25, 2020, while in Minneapolis police custody. But Floyd’s death and the resulting public outcry propelled forward a package of bills in the Minnesota Legislature last summer aiming to hold police more accountable for excessive force and racial bias.
It took nearly two months of negotiating in Minnesota’s divided state Legislature, but lawmakers ultimately passed a series of bills that banned chokeholds and warrior-style training, required more officer training in de-escalation, crisis intervention and mental health and put in place mechanisms to investigate police-involved deaths and sexual assaults. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law in July.
State Rep. Rena Moran, D-St. Paul, said Thursday that of the working group’s 18 legislative proposals to lawmakers, 11 made it through the finish line in 2020. Moran is a member of the working group, as well as of the state Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus, which played a major role in advancing the legislation in 2020.
Several lawmakers and activists over the summer questioned whether the Legislature’s bill package went far enough, but Moran said Thursday that the legislation was “only the beginning,” and “a great first step.”
“Now we have to continue to build on that,” Moran said. “And it’s going to take community and law enforcement to come together, to see each other, to hear each other.”
Moran added that the working group is pushing forward policies “through the lens of sanctity of life,” for both police officers and the Minnesotans who interact with them.
“When you’re a police officer and you get up and you’re able to go back home to your family, or whether you are the person that law enforcement encounters — that they arrest them, they put them in the back of a squad car, they give them a ticket, they go to jail — but they also get to live another day,” she said.