Minnesota task force offers steps to reduce police shootings

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Law enforcement officers should get better training in de-escalation skills and in dealing with people experiencing mental health crises, a working group on reducing police-involved deadly force encounters recommended Monday.

Minnesota’s two highest-ranking black law enforcement officials — Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington — formed the working group last summer in the wake of several high-profile fatal shootings of black men by police officers, including those of Philando Castile and Jamar Clark. Despite their often conflicting points of view, the members came back with 28 recommendations plus additional steps for achieving them.

Harrington said at a news conference that they believe the measures, “if implemented, will prevent and reduce officer-involved shootings in the state of Minnesota.”

Minnesota has had more than 100 officer-involved shootings over the last five years, Harrington said, adding that many members were surprised to learn that 60% happened outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area, affecting nearly every county in the state. Last year alone, 14 civilians and one officer died in such encounters, while an officer in Waseca was gravely wounded last month.

Ellison said the group also learned that between 30% and 50% of the people killed in encounters with police were having mental health crises.

“We can do better and preserve life if we have a stronger grip on how to handle people who find themselves in a mental health crisis,” Ellison said.

The working group members came from a range of backgrounds, ranging from law enforcement and lawmakers to community activists including Clarence Castile, the uncle of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights in 2016.

Clarence Castile said he was particularly excited about the recommendation that the state prepare educational materials for officers and the public on how to handle police stops involving people who are legally carrying concealed weapons, as his nephew was.

One of the key recommendations was creating an independent, specialized unit within the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate all officer-involved shootings and other uses of force that result in death or severe bodily injury. The group also recommended creating a liaison position in the BCA to work with families of those involved in deadly encounters with police to ensure that they’re treated with dignity and respect, kept informed and referred to any services they might need.

The group also called for training all officers in de-escalation skills and tactics to reduce the need to resort to force, especially when responding to people in mental health crises, and adoption of the “co-responder model,” with pairs selected officers with mental health professionals on police calls.

And the group recommended evaluating the use of body-worn cameras at law enforcement agencies that now use them, reporting the results by 2022, and funding their use statewide if they’re found to be effective.

And there were recommendations to promote the well-being and safety of police. The group called for expanding and promoting increased awareness of existing resources to improve the mental health and wellness of first responders.

Harrington said his agency will take the lead in working to implement the recommendations, some of which will require changes in laws or more money.

“Minnesota is not going only to make itself, this will be a model for many states to follow,” said Ron Davis, a consultant who served as executive director of of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Davis, who was brought in to help guide the working group’s deliberations, sent on to say. “I’m going to take this around to every state that calls me, and even those that don’t.”