Lawmakers move to clean up Metro Gang Strike Force

A year of scandal at the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force is prompting a wide-ranging effort by lawmakers to clean up the mess.

A measure to reform multi-agency police units like the strike force got its first hearing at the Capitol Friday.

The state cut off funding for the Metro Gang Strike Force last summer, after a pair of reports found financial improprieties and police misconduct plaguing the unit.

The reports said a handful of officers were taking cash, cars and property for their own use or to fund their operation -- some of it apparently unrelated to any crime.

About three dozen officers were dismissed from the strike force and sent back to their home agencies, and the headquarters was cleaned out. The FBI is investigating the operation, and could present evidence to a federal grand jury for criminal indictments.

"Clearly something was wrong, and something needs to be done," said Legislative Auditor James Nobles, speaking to the House Crime Victims and Criminal Records committee. H

is report last year was the first official look at the scandal.

A bill sponsored by DFL representative Michael Paymar of St. Paul would put a legal end to the gang strike force.

It would also beef up state oversight of multi-jurisdictional police units, set higher standards for police operations and require a single police agency to be accountable for multi-department units.

The bill would also give new authority to the state's Department of Public Safety. That department helped fund the strike force, but found last year it didn't have the legal authority to disband the unit when things went wrong.

The unit has been out of business for months, but still has about 20 vehicles and about a million dollars in cash left over.

Brian Gaviglio, an attorney for the League of Minnesota Cities, which is handling claims against the strike force, told lawmakers it may take the rest of this year to wind down the unit's affairs.

Gaviglio said a hotline for people who think they were wronged by the strike force is still running.

"Thus far, we've had about 30 individuals file claims. We've investigated those claims. Some of them have been resolved," said Gaviglio. "Some have been denied, and then there's an appeace process for those individuals to go to the office of administrative hearings."

The House panel approved Rep. Paymar's bill on a voice vote.

The measure initially also proposed tighter regulations on secret police files about street gangs, but that language has been dropped. Critics say the state needs to make sure the records are based on concrete evidence, and aren't tainted by racial profiling.

Rep. Paymar said he hopes to address that matter later in the session.