By Justin Terrell
Executive Director of the Minnesota Justice Research Center
Each year at the MNJRC, we identify a value to explore within Minnesota’s current criminal legal system and examine ways to transform the system to better align with commonly held values like trust and accountability.
Last week, we released our report “Accountability in Policing: The Unexplored Power of the POST Board.” This report investigates the value of accountability in policing, the current systems that hold police officers accountable for using force appropriately, and the tools available for strengthening such systems in Minnesota. We find that the POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) Board could be a powerful tool in the work to build the community’s trust in policing through accountability.
What did we learn?
Building trust requires true accountability
Across the country, there are calls to strengthen the systems that hold police officers accountable for their actions, especially when those actions create harm in our communities. Such calls have grown in the wake of widely-publicized instances of police violence against Black and Brown individuals.
Our report follows a year of conversations with communities across Minnesota where we consistently heard that building trust between police officers and the communities that they serve requires true accountability. This is especially true for the Black and Brown communities that have so often experienced violence at the hands of police.
Minnesota’s systems of accountability are complex - and ineffective
Our report explores the topic of police accountability: what it means, what it looks like now, and how we can improve the mechanisms of accountability in Minnesota. We define accountability as being obliged (via procedures or policies) or willing (as an individual) to accept responsibility and to account for one’s actions.
Minnesota’s current systems of accountability exist primarily within police departments. The systems set standards for appropriate police officer conduct and provide consequences if those standards are not met. Within police departments, policies are established that dictate how officers must act and the procedures that departments follow when misconduct occurs. Additional accountability exists external to police departments as well. For example, state-level rules establish minimum standards of conduct and licensure requirements, and state bodies are authorized to evaluate or try cases of officer misconduct.
Although current systems have the potential to ensure accountability, the limited data available suggests that these systems are ineffective. In Minneapolis alone, there are hundreds of misconduct complaints against officers each year, yet few investigations are conducted on these complaints. And even fewer officers receive any type of discipline.
The POST Board is a tool for strengthening police accountability systems in Minnesota
The Minnesota POST Board is an executive branch state agency originally designed for the very purpose of holding officers accountable through its licensing authority. It regulates licensing and training standards for the nearly 12,000 peace officers in Minnesota.
This little-known state agency was originally designed for the very purpose of holding Minnesota officers accountable through its licensing authority. Yet while the POST Board has the potential to be an important accountability system, it is not currently an effective one.
Our report recommends enhancing the power of the POST Board in order to strengthen accountability across the state by:
Improving data collection and dissemination related to officer misconduct
Improving community engagement and outreach efforts at the POST Board
Adopting draft rules changes, which strengthen the POST Board’s ability to hold individual police officers accountable to the communities they serve
Revising POST Board standards of conduct to include specific and general language
Increasing staffing and funding for the POST Board.
Such reforms are just one tool in transforming the system - and the culture - of policing. Yet they are critical. The POST Board has both the authority and the responsibility to strengthen the systems that hold individual officers accountable for their actions - and it must do so. People’s lives and well-being depend on it.