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DFLers demand more police reform, GOP says it'll hold hearings on proposals

Democrats have been calling for change since Daunte Wright's death, and now Republicans say they'll hold hearings on bills but haven't made promises it'll lead to anything getting passed.

It looks as if police reform measures could be debated at the state Capitol this session in the wake of Daunte Wright's killing.   

Earlier this week, Gov. Tim Walz and other Democrats called on Republican senators to hold hearings on police accountability proposals this session. And on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the Senate would hold "fact-finding" hearings on some police reform proposals in the next two weeks.

"I'm not promising that we're going to do more reform. I'm promising that we're going to listen if something is warranted," Gazelka said during a news conference. 

It's unclear if additional reform measures will get approved this session. Gazelka on Tuesday stressed the Legislature has a lot of work to do before the session ends in mid-May, including passing budget bills by July 1 to prevent a government shutdown. 

This comes as members of the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus and United Black Legislative Caucus (UBLC) are calling on their colleagues to pass police reform measures before they vote on any budget bills. 

Among the measures the POCI and UBLC caucuses are proposing: 

  • Allowing local governments to establish civilian oversight councils
  • Banning the alteration, erasure or destruction of body-worn camera recordings and withholding footage
  • Prohibiting peace officers from affiliating with white supremacist groups
  • Providing funding for community organizations working to prevent crime. 

The caucuses in a news release on Tuesday noted the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee has held 11 public hearings on police reform and accountability in 2021, while Senate Republicans haven't held any this year. 

“While our community is in pain, grieving the loss of yet another Black man in Minnesota, law enforcement groups and so many others across the aisle are playing politics. We’ve held dozens of hearings over the course of the session that were met with resistance and dismissiveness from law enforcement groups and Republican members in both the Senate and the House,” said Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, who serves as the vice chair of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee. 

“The people of Minnesota deserve and demand a future where community trust is sacred, police officers are held accountable for misconduct, and justice is served. We cannot normalize waking up to a piling list of Black men killed by law enforcement officers," Frazier added. 

Following George Floyd's death in May 2020, Walz and other Democrats, including the POCI Caucus, proposed major legislative changes but many did not get included in the final police accountability package that Walz signed into law last summer, something Gazelka referred to as "significant" legislation.

Among the items included in last summer's police accountability package: a ban on
police "warrior training" and the use of chokeholds; arbitration reform; requirements for the duty to intercede; mental health and autism training; reforms to the Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board; the creation of a new advisory council with citizen voices; and use of force reform.

Democrats and activists, though, criticized Republicans for the final bill not doing enough to enact systemic change, address racial disparities and curb police misconduct. 

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Walz called on the Legislature to finally take up police and criminal justice reforms that would prevent routine traffic stops from turning deadly.

"We can stop pretending that this is just the natural order of the universe and things happen this way," Walz said. "I'm going to demand the Legislature finally hold some hearings on some of these reforms," citing, without detailing specifics, reforms that have passed in other states that have been "proven to make a difference" and reduce the chance of "a routine traffic stop escalating into a loss of life."

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Walz said there are "proposals out there" and proven remedies that can be put into place, "but that will never happen if we don't at least hold hearings on these things. If we don't get ourselves into an uncomfortable position and do what this democracy is supposed to do and debate the hard things."

“We can either come together to fix this or we can suffer together as fools,” Walz said Monday. “In the midst of this trial (Derek Chauvin's trial) that the world is watching, the situation repeated itself yesterday (Sunday)."

In a statement on Monday, the POCI Caucus noted, "At the Legislature, we have several police accountability bills that are ready to be voted on and sent to the Governor, including the House DFL Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform budget bill which contains several critical reforms."

"We strongly urge our Republican colleagues to join us in creating a public safety system that will protect the lives of people like Daunte Wright," the statement continued. "Black Lives Matter.”

Also during Tuesday's news conference, Gazelka first referred to Daunte Wright as Duane, but then later apologized. He also said "being respectful" when getting pulled over by police "goes a long way."

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