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.
This coincides with the increasing number of assaults on the police. Between 2008 and 2015, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has recorded a sharp increase in the number of assaults on law enforcement officers. More recently, two-thirds of the assaults are punches or kicks, but the percentage of punches and kicks is down from 90 percent nine years ago.
The proportion of assaults with guns, knives and other dangerous weapons is going up.
From 2008 to 2010, the number of assaults on police averaged 252, resulting in 81 personal injuries to police each year. From 2013 to 2015, the number of assaults on police averaged 405 annually, with 194 law enforcement officers suffering personal injuries from assaults on average each year.
To be sure, many officers never fire a shot at anyone during their entire careers, according to James Densley, associate professor of criminal justice at 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 under consideration by the Minnesota Legislature with some bipartisan support would have the state spend up to $10 million to improve officer training, and attract more minority members to a career in law enforcement. Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, expects the House of Representatives to pass the legislation soon.
We support that legislation and urge the Legislature to pass it and Gov. Mark Dayton to 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 mental illness, and conflict management during the three-year licensing cycle to keep their license.
In addition, the bill has funds to entice minority members to leave their professions and become law enforcement officers by having the state pay for half of the $32,000 training cost, specifically college tuition.
Critics could argue that officers already are required to meet state standards set by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training. An individual studying and training to be a 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 law enforcement officers to make the decision to shoot if they feel their life is threatened.
While this training required by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training has 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 needed.
The Cornish bill has the support of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association that recognizes better training in de-escalating a serious situation, will be better for the officer, the suspect and the public.
The ECM Editorial Board supports the Cornish bill in its push for additional police training. The subject of police training is definitely worthy of the Legislature’s attention.
This is an opinion of the ECM Editorial Board. The Record is part of ECM Publishers, Inc., a division of Adams Publishing Group.