Policing and public safety are undoubtedly at the forefront of this committee’s minds, and the minds of many Minnesotans and Americans. Over the summer, we were pleased that the legislature responded rapidly to the murder of George Floyd with state-level proposals; however, we want to be clear that the work this body began in special session is far from finished. While changes such as allowing residency incentives, imposing a duty to intercede and increasing community input at the POST Board address symptoms, it is the underlying systems of policing and public safety that require change.
Too often, the policy response to police violence has been to try and build safeguards against a repeat of an incident that has already happened. When police use lethal force against a person suffering a mental health crisis, the legislative response is to fund more mental health training for peace officers. When George Floyd died with a police officer’s knee on his neck, the legislative response was to restrict future use of that type of restraint.
This policymaking after the fact has not worked; if it had, George Floyd and many others would still be alive today. Moreover, it does not address the deep-rooted, systemic problems that have survived each and every one of these attempts at change.
Over the summer the ACLU-MN advocated for stronger provisions in the policing bill, and we will continue to do so this session and beyond.
We want to see actual accountability implemented via creation of a state cause of action for civil rights violations by government employees such as police officers. Creating this state path for liability lifts the shield of qualified immunity that has systematically prevented accountability for harms disproportionately suffered by Minnesota’s communities of color.
We will advocate for bans on invasive and dangerously inaccurate surveillance technology such as facial recognition technology. And we want oversight and transparency mechanisms enacted so that other surveillance technologies, both existing and in the future, cannot be deployed in secret without public notice, examination, and guardrails against infringement on civil liberties.
We will continue to advocate for increased independent oversight and review of law enforcement officers and their conduct. Law enforcement has the power to deprive Minnesotans of life; this extraordinary power on behalf of the state demands heightened, independent scrutiny.
We want to see the barrier to empowered civilian oversight boards lifted. Policing is inherently local, so local governing bodies should not be prevented from having full conversations about civilian oversight boards and their authority in their communities. We also want to see an independent prosecutor’s office for cases involving officer-caused deaths and/or harms.
We will continue advocating for stricter limits on officer use of force and deadly force, and increased reporting and public access to that reporting on use of force incidents. We will continue to advocate for separation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. We will advocate for systems of fines, fees, and asset forfeiture that reduce profit motives in policing and increase equity in access to justice.
Finally, we will continue advocating for a reimagining of public safety that invests not just in law enforcement budgets, but in housing, mental health care, substance use treatment and other issues at the root of public safety for all Minnesotans.
(Testimony delivered to the Minnesota House Public Safety committee hearing)