Bloomberg Law
March 12, 2021, 9:01 AM

Reimagining the Future of Public Safety After George Floyd

Dr. Artika R. Tyner
Dr. Artika R. Tyner
University of St. Thomas School of Law

Summer 2020 marked a turning point in U.S. history. The conversation around deadly force encounters and racial justice could no longer be ignored. It took center stage.

The world watched as George Floyd, an unarmed African American male, was arrested by police for allegedly trying to use a fake $20 bill in a convenience store, and ended up dying in the street. Four Minneapolis officers arrested Floyd. During the arrest, a White officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd repeatedly stated he could not breathe and cried out for an intervention from his deceased mother as a final plea. He stopped breathing and died under the officer’s knee.

The video recording of a White officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck was the spark of not just a moment but a movement. A movement to address police reform and highlight the importance of racial justice immediately emerged. Protests ensued across the country with tens of thousands of people in more than 140 cities taking to the streets.

Deadly Force Encounters Are Prevalent

Nearly 1,000 people annually are killed due to police-involved deadly use of force (specifically, shootings). People of color experience this violence at a higher rate. In particular, African American men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by the police when compared to their white counterparts.

The list grows of African American men and boys who have been killed by the police: Oscar Grant in Oakland; Freddie Gray in Baltimore; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; Walter Scott in Charleston, S.C.; Tamir Rice in Cleveland; Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., and Stephon Clark in Sacramento, Calif.

The “Say Her Name” movement also highlighted the untold stories of the Black women who have been killed by the police like Breonna Taylor who was fatally shot by police in her home. The community responded with an unwavering demand for equal justice under the law.

Police Reform: Laws and Policies

Over the past year, as the movement gained momentum, some states responded with action by banning chokeholds (for example, Arizona and Connecticut) while other jurisdictions explored new community-centered policing models by reallocating police budgets to community services. Demands were placed on the City of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota immediately after Floyd’s killing.

The Minnesota Legislature in a bipartisan effort passed the Minnesota Police Accountability Act of 2020. This new law “modified the threshold for the police use of deadly force” and “required all law enforcement agencies to update their written policies on the use of force to include the requirements of “1) Duty to Intervene in excessive force situations; 2) Duty to Report illegal use of force; and 3) an officer must first consider less lethal measures before applying deadly force.”

The values of accountability and transparency were also reinforced through the requirement that “all law enforcement agencies” report to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) “all incidents of use of force that result in serious bodily injury or death.”

The BCA, which is a division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, provides investigative and specialized law enforcement services.

A Road Map for Change

The Minnesota Working Group on Police-Involved Deadly Force Encounters was able to support this process of reform in Minnesota by offering recommendations for transformation in policing.

In 2019, co-chairs, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, led this groundbreaking state initiative to bring together a group of professionals from community, academia, judicial branch, and law enforcement who were “[...] united in finding ways to reduce deadly force encounters,” according to Harrington.

As noted by the group facilitator, Ron L. Davis of 21CP Solutions, a public safety consulting group, this convening was developed before and not in response to any specific tragedy. Indeed, it was established through the dedication of two leaders (Ellison and Harrington) who were determined to initiate a process of change in policing policies and procedures.

The working group provided a road map for actionable change. Ellison described the work as a “noble goal for a just cause” of reducing deadly force encounters. Four hearings and three listening sessions between August 2019 and January 2020 were held across Minnesota. Family members shared their stories of loss, pain & trauma, experts outlined best practices for reform, and law enforcement shared the daily realities of policing in the 21st Century.

The working group outlined 28 recommendations and 38 action steps such as:

  • Establish a formal, protected, non-disciplinary sentinel event review to analyze critical incidents and identify systemic issues that need to be addressed to improve outcomes.
  • Discuss strategies to increase the role of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board in approving, suspending, or revoking officer licenses at request of chief or sheriff.

Some of the recommendations have been adopted and implemented. For example, in February 2020, BCA filled a new position: Victim, Family, and Community Relations Coordinator.

Investing in Reform

Reform requires an investment of resources through a cross-sector approach. In 2020, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) and the Minnesota Legislature allocated funding for reducing deadly force encounters. One such example is the creation of the Use-of-Force Investigations section in the of BCA.

This separate unit focuses on providing independent investigations to avoid potential conflicts of interest. The proposed 2021-23 budget will include a $4.2 million appropriation for implementing working group recommendations for supporting community healing and officer wellness (Minnesota Heals Program) and fostering innovation in policing. The Pohlad Family Foundation has committed $3 million in partnership with the National League of Cities to implement key recommendations.

Walz admonishes us to not forget, the “time of reckoning is now.” We must reckon with our nation’s history of persistent racial injustice, strained community-police relations, and the need for policing strategies that honor the sanctity of life. Reimagining the future of public safety and redefining policing will guide this change-making process.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Author Information

Dr. Artika R. Tyner is a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. She serves as the founding director of the Center on Race, Leadership, and Social Justice and served on the Working Group on Police-Involved Deadly Force Encounters established by co-chairs Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington.

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