Better late than never, maybe: MN governor unveils police reform package for special session after riots

Get ready for the national media to start issuing hosannas to Gov. Tim Walz — without mentioning that the state should have tackled the issues in Minneapolis years ago. The special session of the state legislature originally got called to deal with a massive public-works package, and that will still take up most of the session. However, Walz added a police reform package that will address some of the long-standing complaints about Minneapolis policing and hopefully draw down some of the lingering bitterness of the rioting in the wake of the George Floyd homicide:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz laid out a wide-ranging overhaul of law enforcement Thursday as lawmakers return to the State Capitol for a special session shadowed by the memory of George Floyd, a black man who died in the hands of Minneapolis police.

Walz, accompanied by DFL leaders, challenged the Legislature to meet calls for action sparked by his death and the protests in Minnesota and across the nation. The DFL plan would reform use-of-force standards, increase oversight of police discipline and encourage community-based alternatives to traditional law enforcement.

Republicans are mostly on board with much of the proposal. The real pushback might come from the DFL’s close ally — public-employee unions. They see one change in particular as a threat to all PEUs and not just the police union:

GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said last week that he thought criminal justice changes need to be vetted and should not be made too quickly. But this week he said he has had many conversations on the topic and changed his mind.

He said he now believes Republicans could agree to ban chokeholds, eliminate binding arbitration for public employees, put the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in charge of investigating use-of-force cases and make it the duty of officers to intervene and report unauthorized use of force.

There seems to be bipartisan support for some of those proposals, though a couple of public employee unions that largely support Democrats have said they oppose ending binding arbitration.

Just to remind everyone, the BCA is a state law enforcement agency similar to other states that work on cross-jurisdictional issues. They routinely get called into higher-profile use of force cases already, and launched their own probe of the Floyd homicide by four police officers almost immediately. This would formalize and broaden that jurisdiction. It’s a simple reform, while the requirement for intervention is anything but. There is no doubt that it is correct and long overdue, but it also requires a change of culture in a hierarchical organization that will not easily be accomplished.

For the most part, these are no-brainers, including the end of binding arbitration in cases of police misconduct. There won’t be any serious opposition to passing these reforms, although the debate over binding arbitration pitting DFLers against their union allies will certainly be entertaining. The question, however, is why the DFL and Walz, and Mark Dayton before him, never bothered to implement them until now. Indeed, the city of Minneapolis could have imposed most of these reforms (except the binding arbitration change) at any time of the decades of progressive control of the city and police department.

Will national media outlets ask that question? If the coverage in today’s Washington Post gives any indication, don’t hold your breath. Their narrative highlights Walz as a trailblazer in contrast to a gridlocked Congress and hostile White House:

“Minnesotans have raised their voice. . . . They have come to the capitol with the expectation of change,” Walz said, announcing that the special session would begin at noon Friday. “The time is upon us, and we need to get it done. The community is telling all of us what they want.”

As Washington continues to face partisan gridlock and election-year politics, states, cities and some corporations are responding to Floyd’s death and the burgeoning national movement it sparked by embracing far-reaching changes. Democrats in Congress have offered a police reform proposal and Republicans are set to do so, but it is unclear whether they will be able to reach agreement. …

Walz is aiming to turn Minnesota into a national leader on policing changes with the package of proposals he is presenting to the legislature. The measure would change state law on when a police officer is justified in using deadly force, a new measure that Walz’s office said would “prioritize sanctity of life.”

A national leader? Please. Minnesotans have a long list of complaints about policing in the Twin Cities, not all related to use of force. Walz and the DFL had years to deal with those and did nothing, in large part because of the party’s incestuous relationships with PEUs. The DFL got depantsed by the riots and has struggled to get back out in front ever since. That’s not leadership — it’s CYA, nothing more.

The contrast with Congress is especially absurd. Once again, the federal government has no jurisdiction or authority over local policing. Local police and sheriff’s offices are run by the cities and counties, under the supervision of state governments. The accountability for their performance lies with mayors, city councils, county boards of supervisors, and ultimately governors and state legislators. Walz isn’t a hero for acting before Congress acts, because Congress has little authority to do anything but spend money on studies and metrics. If people want policing to change, they need to seek that change where the authority lies.

Don’t bet on the Washington Post or other national media to remind their readers and viewers of that uncomfortable fact (with a few exceptions). They have a narrative to push about Democratic heroes, rather than expose the decades of Democrat-Big Labor machine politics that left cities unaccountable.

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