Faith, elected leaders urge POST Board to adopt rules banning police from being in hate groups

The police licensing board set to finalize language for new conduct, licensure standards

By: - December 8, 2022 12:56 pm

The Rev. JaNaé Bates, spokesperson for the progressive ecumenical group ISAIAH, said she honors the freedom of religion, but “that also means that you don’t have a freedom to wear blue in the day and a white hood at night.”  Photo by Deena Winter/Minnesota Reformer

The once-obscure state board that licenses police officers has become ground zero in an effort to rid Minnesota police departments of white supremacy, while raising concerns among police backers that the new rules will stifle First Amendment rights. 

The Rev. Elijah McDavid III called on the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST Board, to vote Friday to finalize groundbreaking new rules that would bar law enforcement officers from being involved in hate groups.

“For far too long, we have believed the silly notion of a singular hate group known as the Klan that existed in some far-removed chapter of our country’s history,” he said at a Wednesday press conference called by faith and elected leaders. “My faith community and houses of worship across this state are keenly aware of the increasing threat of white supremacist groups who are growing in number.”

Major police groups object to some of the proposed rules. 

The proposal is primarily focused on minimum conduct and licensure standards, but would also give the board the power to take cops off the streets for misconduct — even if they’re not convicted of a crime or disciplined by their police department.

The POST Board meets Friday to review public comments and decide if it wants to make any changes to a sweeping set of new rules as it nears the end of a three-year rulemaking process.

After a public comment period ends Dec. 13, two administrative law judges with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings will weigh in — likely in January or February — on whether the POST Board has the statutory authority to adopt the rules, and whether they’re needed and reasonable.

Then the rules also require the OK from Gov. Tim Walz before the POST Board can act on them, most likely in the spring.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association — representing 10,000 public safety officials — and the state’s largest law enforcement union, Law Enforcement Labor Services, told the POST Board last month the rules aren’t needed. The union and police backers also say the new rules are vague and ambiguous and exceed the POST Board’s authority.

Some law enforcement groups have said the rules could trip up officers who belong to a religious group that’s considered extremist. The POST Board recently added language clarifying that religious beliefs won’t prevent a person from getting licensed as a law enforcement officer.

The Rev. JaNaé Bates, spokesperson for the progressive ecumenical group ISAIAH, said she honors the freedom of religion, but “that also means that you don’t have a freedom to wear blue in the day and a white hood at night.”  

Minneapolis Council Member Robin Wonsley said it was disturbing that two large, powerful groups charged with serving and protecting people oppose the ban.

“It can be really discouraging to realize just how far we are from a Minnesota where black lives actually matter,” Wonsley said.

After the 2020 Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, activists turned to the POST Board, frustrated that a divided Legislature stalled on the reformers’ priorities. 

Wonsley said she invited Minneapolis’ new police chief, Brian O’Hara, to the press conference. He was a no-show. A city spokesman said while O’Hara is pleased with the direction of the POST rules so far, after seeking legal guidance, O’Hara decided it would be inappropriate for him to speak in his capacity as chief at the “non-city sponsored event.”

Wonsley said it’s sad that something so “simple and basic” such as condemning affiliation with white supremacy is considered controversial.

“I want to take a moment to honor that terror, that anxiety and anger that many of us feel every time we are reminded that white supremacy is still so normalized within our society,” Wonsley said. 

She noted that the Minneapolis Police Department is under federal investigation for racist policing practices.

McDavid said as a pastor, “My prayer remains forever the same: That one day the children in my church — and the children across our state — when they see a blue uniform, they won’t have to fear and tremble. But they will be able to rest assured that their lives are in good hands.”

DFL House Rep. Carlos Mariani, the outgoing public safety committee chair who has pushed the POST Board to take action, credited POST Board chair Kelly McCarthy for her “courageous and visionary leadership.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.