Walz, DFL hope to break through stalemate on police accountability, reform measures as session end nears

Police in riot gear stand guard outside the Brooklyn Center police station shortly after body camera footage was released of the fatal police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Monday is the adjournment of the legislative session, leaving just days for lawmakers to bridge major differences in policy in a public safety bill that could shape how police departments do their work. 

The police killing of Daunte Wright led to renewed calls by Democratic lawmakers to approve new police accountability and criminal justice reform measures. Senate Republicans initially agreed to hold hearings on police reform proposals, but backtracked shortly after the murder conviction of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the slaying of George Floyd, saying justice had been served. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said there was not enough time to consider new proposals and instead said the measures would be debated in a budget conference committee, which is a mix of members of the House and Senate who meet to iron out differences between the two chambers. Gazelka also said urgency was diminished because the U.S. Department of Justice had announced a pattern-and-practice investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. The federal civil rights investigation, Gazelka suggested, could result in recommendations to be acted on by policymakers later. 

Here is where things stand on various proposals and what obstacles remain to pass additional changes to how Minnesota police do their jobs as DFL Gov. Tim Walz and the House DFL caucus make a final push ahead of Monday.

House Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders are flush with ideas

Among DFL measures proposed are tighter regulations of so-called no-knock warrants, explicitly prohibiting them if the only crime alleged is drug possession. The law would mandate requirements for reporting data related to the warrants, also referred to as “dynamic entry” warrants. 

No-knock warrants have come under criticism after high-profile incidents involving incorrect addresses or other grave errors, sometimes resulting in death, such as Breonna Taylor’s March 2020 killing in Louisville, Ky. Earlier this year, Anoka County police terrorized a mother and daughter in Coon Rapids while serving a no-knock warrant in a raid requested by the Minneapolis Police Department. 

Other proposed law changes include banning traffic stops for minor infractions like having expired tabs, which are thought to invite racial profiling; allowing cities to create civilian oversight boards for police;  banning police officers from associating with white supremacist groups; and mandating that family members of those killed by police be given access to body camera footage within 48 hours. 

Police groups opposed several DFL proposals

On Monday, representatives from three law enforcement groups that represent Minnesota police chiefs, sheriffs and rank-and-file officers testified at the Capitol on the public safety budget bill. 

St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson, representing the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association, pushed back against efforts to rein in no-knock warrants. 

“What is being proposed, in my opinion, is superfluous,” he said. “The threshold to get any search warrant is very high. The threshold for a no- knock warrant is even higher.”

Police groups are also critical of a change in the use-of-force law approved last summer in the wake of Floyd’s murder. The Legislature changed the state’s standard for deadly force, saying it “shall be exercised judiciously and with respect for human rights and dignity and for the sanctity of every human life.”

Anderson said the change in standard has made neighboring states hesitant to help Minnesota police in border communities like Moorhead. 

“After reading the new language, it’s a little bit scary to me the amount of specificity that is going to be required now,” Anderson said. “I’m not alone in that… We’ve heard from our neighbors in North Dakota and Wisconsin that they will no longer provide support to Minnesota law enforcement because of that language.”

No progress until budget targets are set, GOP leaders say

State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, has avoided efforts to approve new policies, saying the conference committee is waiting for legislative leaders and DFL Gov. Tim Walz to agree to budget targets that would allow various conference committees to then hash out differences. 

State Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, and other House DFL leaders argue that policy changes should be debated while leaders and Walz continue negotiations on the size of the next two-year budget. 

Walz said Monday the back-and-forth offers being traded with legislative leaders are currently only focused on spending levels and have not focused on policy. 

House DFL focusing on victims of police violence

Last week, Mariani invited testimony from people who have been affected by police violence, including relatives of Wright and Floyd. The result was three hours of emotional testimony that DFL members hoped would put pressure on Senate Republicans to act.

In a tweet after the hearing, Mariani said: “Racism is so normalized it stuns you how acceptable it is… We then expend a lot emotional/spiritual energy simply trying to get others just to see it’s harm to you, all in the hope that it matters to them.”

Senate GOP focusing on making sure police have a voice

Gazelka said during a floor session recently that it’s important law enforcement officials have input on policy changes that would affect the profession. Republicans have steadfastly backed police groups, regularly stating their support for police and hitting progressives over their calls to defund or abolish the police.

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.