Walz, Democrats insist on police changes

Police investigate homicide
A police vehicle is parked on 34th Avenue South. Gov. Tim Walz and a group of mostly DFL legislators say they will insist on changes to policing as the legislative session moves into its final weeks. 
Tim Nelson | MPR News 2016

Updated: 4:15 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz and a group of mostly DFL legislators say they will insist on changes to policing as the legislative session moves into its final weeks. 

The DFL-controlled House has passed a bill that aims to reduce unnecessary traffic stops, create more civilian oversight councils, strengthen body camera policies, limit no-knock warrants and bar police officers from associating with white supremacist organizations. So far, the Republican-controlled Senate has not taken similar action. 

Walz said last week's guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial of George Floyd is just a first step.

Derek Chauvin is taken into custody
In this image from a video broadcast on April 20, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is taken into custody after he was found guilty on all three counts in his trial for the death of George Floyd at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis.
Screengrab of Court TV file

"While there was accountability in the courtroom, systemic change is going to take work,” Walz said. “And it's going to take a lot of folks letting down their guard a bit and having conversations and working together."

Walz said he’s not drawing any hard lines yet, but said he’s worried that those resisting calls to transform policing will try to run out the clock as the May 17 adjournment nears.

Senate Republican leader Paul Gazelka had said there would be hearings on police changes, but then reversed course and said the issue can be addressed in conference committee meetings that begin next week.

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Gazelka said Thursday that changes to policing that would hinder the ability to stop crime or open individual officers up to civil lawsuits won’t survive legislative negotiations.

He declined to say what law enforcement measures could advance, and he said multiple voices must be involved, including those of the police.

“Too many people, I feel like, have thrown the police under the bus,” Gazelka said. “I have said a number of times that police in Minnesota, many are very demoralized because of the lack of appreciation for the work that they do. So they must be at the table.”

Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, voted for the House bill and will be on the public safety conference committee that holds its first meeting Monday.  

As the only House Republican to support the bill, he said he is open to an honest conversation about the way police do their jobs.

“My challenge to everyone here is — if we're going to talk about the best ways to do this, let's put it all on the table,” Miller said. “We might not arrive at the same decisions. We may not pass legislation that makes everyone happy. But if we're going to talk about the tough issues, we need to talk about all the tough issues."

Ahead of the news conference, other House Republicans put distance between themselves and Miller.

Rep. Brian Johnson, the Republican lead member of the public safety committee, said the changes being pursued were overly partisan.

“We all share a common goal of making sure all Minnesotans feel protected and respected by law enforcement, but we won't make serious progress on these important issues until Democrats drop their partisan approach and start listening to voices beyond their liberal activist base,” he said in a written statement.

Other Democrats said they were worried that the policing issue would get too deeply wrapped in the budget talks.

“I fear that this moment may lead to Black lives becoming a political, partisan issue,” said Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, who is Black. “I hope the Senate doesn’t treat our lives like a bargaining chip.”