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Minnesota board passes ban on officers with extremist ties to next step

The POST board approved a draft of licensing guidelines for officers. One of the changes is a specific ban on licensing for individuals with ties to extremist groups.

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The Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board meets in St. Paul on Friday.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s police licensing board is working to change its officer hiring standards and block people with ties to extremist or hate groups from serving in law enforcement.

The Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training on Friday voted to approve a draft set of new licensing guidelines for officers, though there are several more steps the guidelines must go through before they can be adopted.

One of the changes is a specific ban on licensing for individuals with ties to extremist groups. The panel can currently only revoke an offer’s license if the officer is convicted of a felony or some misdemeanors. Under the new rules, the board would take a more active role and use its authority to revoke licenses to enforce guidelines on discrimination and excessive force.

“The FBI in any risk assessment person will tell you that the greatest threat that we're facing right now is white nationalism,” said POST board chair and Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy. “How do we as a profession ensure that we don't allow that in our ranks?”

Historically the POST Board has lacked teeth to create and enforce standards for law officers, but following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police in 2020, state officials took interest in changing that. The Legislature expanded the board to include citizen members, and Gov. Tim Walz appointed new members, a move hailed by police reform advocates.

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Law enforcement agencies typically set their own hiring and disciplinary policies, and while McCarthy admitted that many departments already ban affiliation with extremist groups, the board taking on a role would reinforce the rules and cover gaps.

“If you look at the model policy for peace officers, which is on our website, there is a provision that you can not engage in activity that would diminish the public trust in such a way it would damage the profession,” she said. “And I think we can all agree that being a member of the Oathkeepers would damage public trust in a way that would harm the entire profession.”

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Lawmakers and activists who support the more active role for the POST board held a news conference Wednesday to voice their approval of the changes, calling them long overdue.

“This is a value statement and the values are that every Minnesotan, no matter what zip code you're in, no matter what color your skin is, no matter what circumstances you were born into, you have a right to be safe in your community,” said New Hope DFL Rep. Cedrick Frazier, who carried public safety legislation this year in the House.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, a St. Paul DFLer who chairs the House public safety committee and is retiring at the end of the year, said the POST board should have taken a more active role years ago. Lawmakers created the board in the 1970s, and Minnesota was among the first states to have a licensing body for officers.

“It went through 50 years of failing to update this code of conduct for police officers as our state culture insisted that the state leave that to individual decisions to local law enforcement units,” Mariani said. “However, over hundreds of jurisdictions that left a lot of room for inconsistent protection of rights across the state.”

The Minnesota Peace and Police Officers Association and Law Enforcement Labor Services oppose the changes. In a joint letter to the POST board, the groups said discipline and hiring policies should remain within the control of local agencies or be determined by the Legislature.

MPPOA and LELS also raised concerns about the board’s proposed new guidelines on discriminatory conduct, calling the rule “unreasonably vague” and with potential for arbitrary or inconsistent enforcement.

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The rule change process for the POST board started roughly two and a half years ago. Now that the POST board has approved a draft of the new peace officer hiring requirements, an administrative law judge will review them to make sure the new rules fall within the jurisdiction of the board. That process will take about a month, and from there the board will work on its final guidelines based on the judge’s feedback.

Rule changes won’t affect people currently training to become police officers. McCarthy and POST Board Executive Director Erik Misselt said they’d expect the new rule adoption process to be complete by July.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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