Minnesota Governor Signs Floyd-Inspired Police Reform Bill

Contrary to activists’ calls to defund the police, the bill provides over $3 million in new funding for reform initiatives and extends an existing $6 million in annual training funds until 2024.

Police in riot gear walk through a cloud of blue smoke as they advance on protesters near the Minneapolis 5th Precinct police station on May 30, 2020, following the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed into law Thursday police reforms responding to the death of George Floyd after a lengthy struggle to get a bill through the state’s divided government.

The bill bans chokeholds, creates a team to provide mental health services for police officers and other emergency responders, mandates a handful of trainings and imposes a duty on officers to report and intervene when their colleagues use excessive force.

It further prohibits aggressive “warrior” training techniques that could increase the likelihood of excessive force, creates an independent statewide investigation unit for deaths and sexual misconduct involving police officers, and mandates the creation of a database for already public records related to police conduct.

The bill also makes changes to arbitration, a major bugbear for departments seeking to fire violent officers. Under the new rules, the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services will be required to appoint at least six arbitrators specifically for complaints against police officers. The arbitrators will be required to undergo training on racism and implicit bias as well as on police officers’ day-to-day experiences.

Contrary to activists’ calls to defund the police, the bill provides over $3 million in new funding for these initiatives and extends an existing $6 million in annual training funds until 2024.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed into law a sweeping package of police accountability measures Thursday. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP)

A handful of other provisions seek to meet protesters’ demands halfway, including one allowing cities to create incentives for officers to live within the cities they patrol. That provision replaced another one that would have lifted a statewide ban on residency requirements for officers.

In Minneapolis, which is home to only 8% of its own police officers, residency requirements have been one of activists’ many rallying points. None of the officers involved in Floyd’s May 25 arrest and subsequent death lived in Minneapolis at the time. Derek Chauvin, who faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges for the incident, lived in the east metro suburb of Oakdale but for years has claimed residency and voted in Florida.

The reform bill went to Walz’ desk after the Republican-majority Minnesota Senate approved it early Tuesday morning. Senate Republicans and the majority in the state House, controlled by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, locked horns on the bill over the course of two special sessions, hearing testimony from activists, police union representatives and others. Calls for police reform overshadowed the business the first special session called for: a review of the governor’s Covid-19 emergency powers and a $1 billion public infrastructure bonding bill, which has yet to pass.

Dropped from the bill were DFL provisions that would have turned over prosecutions involving deadly force to the attorney general’s office and restored voting rights to some felons.

Reactions to the bill have been tepid on all sides. DFL Representative Rena Moran stressed that the bill is “only the beginning.” Walz echoed that sentiment, saying the bipartisan legislation “moves us toward a critical step toward criminal justice reform.” And Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka stressed ahead of time that while legislators “never stopped working on this,” it would not pass without agreement on the bonding bill.

Reform activists, meanwhile, took a more skeptical eye. Civil rights lawyer, activist and former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Nekima Levy Armstrong called the bill “watered-down legislation” and “a slap in the face, especially to Black residents in the state of Minnesota.”

Activists weren’t the only ones disheartened.

Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he wanted to see greater changes to arbitration as well. And Julia Decker, police director for the ACLU of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune that she was disappointed the bill didn’t require an independent prosecutor like the attorney general to handle cases like Floyd’s.

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