The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill early Tuesday that looks at making a number of reforms to public safety and law enforcement, including training, reporting and policy changes. The bill was passed in both the House and Senate just before the second special session was adjourned.
The bill outlines a number of changes to police policy and procedure, including limiting the use of restraints like chokeholds, calling for additional training in crisis response, conflict management, cultural diversity and autism, regulating the use of force, setting up incentives to encourage officers to live in the cities or counties in which they work, mandating that peace officers must intercede when observing another peace officer using force that violates policy, increased reporting around use-of-force incidents and several other provisions.
Fergus Falls Chief of Public Safety Kile Bergren doesn’t foresee the bill causing any major changes to the department. “(Mental health crises and autism training) are already included in our training. One thing that we have done for years, we actually train above what is required, most of our officers go through crisis intervention training, which is like a 40 hour mental health and deescalation course, and that started years ago with the state hospital,” he says. “Over the years we’ve always had probably a little bit more training, or a higher standard of training, when it came to mental health and de-escalation. ... What we’re doing now probably exceeds even what the new standards are that were adopted last night or early this morning.”
The bill includes a section titled “Duty to Intercede and Report,” which mandates that peace officers, regardless of tenure or rank, must intervene when they see a fellow peace officer using force that violates policy, such as an illegal restraint. “There’s the duty to intervene, and that’s something that we have in our policy currently, I think that that’s a good thing,” Bergren says. “I think those are good takeaways, that that’s what we’re here to do: to protect people. Even if you see a co-worker doing something wrong, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, you intervene and make sure that you make a best effort to preserve life.”
Neither the Fergus Falls Police Department nor the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office have overt policies regarding chokeholds, but neither agency trains officers in using them. The bill and both agencies allow for the use of chokeholds unless use of deadly force is authorized to protect the officer from death or great bodily harm. “A chokehold/carotid control hold could be used in a deadly force situation,” said Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons. “Any individual who has had the carotid control hold applied, regardless of whether he or she was rendered unconscious, shall be promptly examined by paramedics or other qualified medical personnel and should be monitored until examined by paramedics or other appropriate medical personnel.”
Fitzgibbons doesn’t foresee any major changes to his department, either, resulting from the passing of the bill. “The bill will not have a significant effect on the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office,” he says. “Our staff receive training and have policies in place that are identified in the new bill.”
He adds that, like the Fergus Falls Police Department, the sheriff’s office already has a policy of requiring deputies to intercede and report the use of unreasonable force. They have also received training with regard to crisis intervention, mental health crisis training, conflict training and cultural diversity, and beginning July 1, 2021, “The new bill will now include a four-hour block that covers safer interactions between peace officers and persons with autism,” he says.