As calls grow for police reform, officer licensing agency to audit practices

Protesters march by the Minnesota State Capitol building.
In wake of George Floyd's death, protesters marched by the Minnesota State Capitol building earlier this month. The POST board, which oversees licensing and standards for police officers in Minnesota, is embarking on a comprehensive review of its policies.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News file

The state agency that oversees licensing and standards for police officers is embarking on a comprehensive review of its policies that may lead to changes to licensing, complaint and discipline and pre-service training.

Erik Misselt, the interim director of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, said the POST board’s policies haven’t kept up with the public’s expectations for police accountability. 

Unlike medical boards, the POST board cannot suspend an officer’s license based only on allegations. Misselt said he’d like to see the POST board go to the state Legislature and ask for changes in state laws to broaden its authority.

“When the board was created in 1979, it was created to address a very specific issue of training and recruitment, and over the years that was the very limited scope that it was intended to do,” he said. “It was very clear to the board that we have not kept up with expectations of the community — expectations of law enforcement even.”

Even before the killing of George Floyd set off a discussion on the need for police reform in Minnesota, the board was beginning a time of transition. 

Gov. Tim Walz recently appointed several new people to the POST board and Misselt was also appointed earlier this year.

Now the agency is discussing what changes it can make to its complaint and discipline process that would hold more police officers accountable. It can currently investigate misconduct, but ultimately, license revocations only happen when an officer is convicted of a felony or gross misdemeanor.

The officer charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing has a history of complaints, but was never convicted of a felony. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin shot two people during his 19-year career and had nearly 20 complaints on his file.

Misselt said there is not one action that the POST board can take to eliminate deadly force encounters. But the board could ask lawmakers to broaden its authority.

“A great deal of our authority comes from an actual conviction for felony or gross misdemeanor,” Misselt said. “There are some other noncriminal issues that we can revoke licenses for but they are very limited, one example is sexual harassment.”

If Walz extends the state of emergency another 30 days, it will trigger an automatic special session on July 12, when the current 30-day period expires. Police reform could be part of it.

The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement will begin a lengthy audit of the POST board’s policies and rule-making in July. 

“We need to find out what the limits of our authority are, what we can and cannot do,” Misselt said. “One of the large debates going forward in terms of the role of the POST board is going to be — how deep does the POST board get involved and where does the POST board step in and do an investigation.”

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