Escalating demands on police require additional training

The shooting of Philando Castile last summer in Falcon Heights by St. Anthony police officer Geronimo Yanez was one of a record number of fatal shootings involving police officers in Minnesota in 2016. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension reports that 13 people were killed by police officers in 2016. Since 1995, officers in Minnesota have killed at least 151 people, according to an analysis by the BCA and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

This coincides with the increasing number of assaults on the police. The BCA has recorded 300 assaults on officers since 2011. The Minnesota Crime Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has recorded a sharp increase in assaults officers, particularly punches or kicks.

The bureau’s data shows from 2008 to 2010 the number of assaults on police averaged 252 annually resulting in 81 personal injuries. From 2013 to 2015, the number of assaults on police averaged 405 annually including 194 personal injuries.

To be sure many officers never fire a shot at anyone during their entire careers, according to James Densley, criminal justice professor at the Metropolitan State University.

Some experts, including law enforcement officials agree, however, that officers could be trained better to handle difficult situations, and that more minority police officers are needed.

A bill authored by Rep. Tony Cornish, under consideration by the Minnesota Legislature would have the state spend $16.5 million to improve officer training. The funds would be administered by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers and Training, with the money to go to local governments for police training.

We support that legislation and urge the Legislature to pass it and Gov. Mark Dayton to sign it. The governor told members of the ECM Publishers Editorial Board that if the Legislature passes the bill as expected, he will sign it.

Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, says he welcomes the bill. It would require officers to be better trained for handling cases involving minority persons and the mentally ill. If the bill were to pass, all officers would be required to take 16 hours of training in crisis intervention and mental illness, and conflict management during the three-year licensing cycle to keep their license.

In addition, Cornish’s bill provides $1 million each year of the 2018-19 biennium to entice minority members to leave their professions and become law enforcement officers through a Pathway to Policing program for reimbursement grants to local units of government.

Critics could argue that officers already are required to meet state standards set by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training. A would-be police officer must complete an educational program and pass a state board exam. The officers become licensed when they are hired by a law enforcement department. This state board requires the officer to train once a year in the use of force and every five years in emergency pursuit training. In addition, the officer must complete 48 hours of continuing education every three years.

The officer, however, can choose which continuing education courses to take. For example, officer Yanez took a seminar called “The Bulletproof Warrior” that, according to the course description, urged the law enforcement officer to make the decision to shoot if the officer felt their life was threatened.

While the current training requirements of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training have been sufficient for years past when relationships between the police and minority communities weren’t as tense as they are today, more up-to-date training is required.

The Cornish bill has the support of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. We agree that improved training in de-escalating a serious situation will be better for the officer, the suspect and the public.

– An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board