- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

Star Tribune, April 1

After decision in Jamar Clark case: Police, community must move forward - together

Wounds run deep following the decision not to charge police officers in the shooting death of Jamar Clark. They come atop much scar tissue built up through years of painful incidents that seem to inspire too much talk and too little real change.

What is needed to break that cycle are tangible proposals to reduce officer-involved violence - ones backed by resources and, most important, developed in conjunction with the community. Some reforms are in the works, but the Minneapolis Police Department should include the citizenry in a meaningful way, update the public regularly on its progress, choose priorities carefully and be candid about the resources needed.

Above all else should come a strong, ongoing emphasis on crisis-intervention training. To conclude that no crime was committed in the Clark shooting is not to deny that it raises questions about how such tragedies might be prevented. Incredibly, despite all the tensions and heartaches over decades, before this year only 15 percent of city officers were trained specifically in ways to deal with people in crisis, which covers a large portion of their 911 calls. The department has said that by the end of this year, all officers responding to such calls will have received 40 hours of training conducted by mental-health professionals. Such training is standard in Wisconsin for every police recruit and should be the norm here, not just in Minneapolis but across the state.

Martin Dapkin, a recently retired Wisconsin justice official who helped develop that state’s crisis management training manual, said that “experience has simply proven that the outcomes are better” when such techniques are used. And the definition of a person in crisis should be broad. The Wisconsin manual emphasizes: “People who are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs are people in crisis.” That has direct bearing on police interactions, because, the manual states, “when a person is in a full crisis state, the ability to listen, comprehend and focus may be as little as 5 percent of normal.”

Departments across the country are looking for ways to move officers away from a “warrior” mind-set toward one of public servant and guardian. To that end, the Minneapolis Police Department should be transparent and detailed about the type of crisis training its officers are receiving, its cost, plans for recurring training and how it will send the message that officers are expected to use such techniques whenever possible. Mayor Betsy Hodges and Chief Janee Harteau, in a recent meeting with community leaders, apologized for the numerous items in a 2003 federal mediation agreement that were never implemented.

As part of a commitment to limiting lethal force, the department should move quickly to train and equip the remaining 40 percent of its officers who have not been issued Tasers or similar devices. Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze lacked Tasers when they approached Jamar Clark. No one can know whether that equipment would have made a difference, but police need options short of lethal force. The department and community should develop guidelines to govern their use. The devices can be harmful if used improperly, but U.S. Department of Justice studies also show that they have resulted in lower rates of injuries among both suspects and officers.

Lastly, while department officials say they already have reviewed policies and training, they should consider an assessment that focuses specifically on the use of force, this time with significant community input. It is not enough to say the takedown technique used in the Clark incident by Ringgenberg was “not favored.” The only mention of takedowns in the MPD use-of-force guidelines requires that officers file a report, but a takedown “does not require supervisor notification.” Such notification could provide a moment for officer and supervisor to review an incident and consider whether an alternative could have been employed.

None of this could ever mean that there will be no future tragedies like the Clark shooting. The goal is to make them as rare as possible, for the community to have some stake in the policies and for officers to be given the broadest range of tools for keeping the public safe.


St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 3

Body-cams in Minnesota: Any new law must be fully vetted

Minnesota’s debate about police body-cameras played on last week, while the aftermath of the Jamar Clark police shooting played out in Minneapolis.

As lawmakers approach decisions about the small cameras typically clipped onto an officer’s uniform, pressures abound, with the Clark case among those bringing calls for heightened accountability and transparency.

All the more reason, then, for a deliberate approach and a thorough airing of the trade-offs involved - deciding what gets recorded, who sees it and when, what becomes public and what doesn’t, who bears the costs.

It seems clear that a thorough airing, involving a variety of perspectives, not just those of groups immediately and directly affected, will not happen in the current legislative session.

So, rather than a rush to make policy, Minnesotans - both those in police blue and civilians - will be best served, for now, by the status quo.

During a hearing in December, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, a bill author and key committee chair on the matter, asked: “Is the whole world going to fall apart if we don’t have a bill?”

We think not.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, another bill author and committee chair, suggested a reasonable path forward, according to an Associated Press report last week: that issues be worked out by a task force after the Legislature adjourns.

If lawmakers wait until more of them are better informed, as they should, existing law prevails. It stipulates that most footage body cameras collect is presumed public, except in certain situations - for example, while a criminal investigation is under way or if footage would reveal the identity of sexual assault victims.

The body cam debate involves power, says Rich Neumeister of St. Paul, a longtime watchdog and activist on data practices. “There is power with the use of the body camera. Who has that power - the guidelines and rules - is what the legislation is all about,” he wrote in a blog post.

It’s a discussion dominated by competing interests. The Pioneer Press’ Tad Vezner laid them out this way:

- Law enforcement officials see cameras as both an investigative tool and protection against phony complaints, but worry about residents hesitating to call them to their homes and witnesses clamming up because everything might be recorded.

- Police watchdog groups note that the main point of body cameras is transparency. “So what’s the use if the footage can’t be seen, except in rare instances?” they ask. “Why is everyone worrying about what cops want, instead of what the public wants?”

- Civil libertarians worry about police having unrestricted recordings of the inside of homes - whether or not it’s relevant to a case at hand.

Don Gemberling, also of St. Paul and a state leader on freedom-of-information and privacy matters, told our editorial board in a meeting with representatives of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) that he’d like to see “a higher-level discussion” - around the questions of just what is it that we’re trying to do, and why? But, he said, “it’s not happening.”

Neumeister has observed a need for “grassroots community organizations ‘at the table’ who represent people in a unique way ‘in the community.’”

There’s a difference, he argues, between a representative of law enforcement who considers a body camera a law enforcement tool and lobbies for secrecy of videos and “the person or community who sees police behavior that is abrasive and abusive or sees and experiences racial bias and profiling.”

The necessary debate has to be about balance among competing interests and principles, as the Pioneer Press’ Ruben Rosario observed in a recent column, weighing the public’s right to see videos against privacy concerns of those on camera.

Among the issues: In addition to the bounds of privacy, considerations include who should see the footage, when cameras should be turned on and off, when videos should be made available, how long videos should be retained and whether officers should be able to view videos before writing their reports.

We’ve also heard concerns that videos might not tell the entire story of an incident, that portions might be taken out of context and that they could be used to discipline officers or micromanage them.

Cost, too, is an issue, with questions about expenses for equipment, storage and retrieval.

Meanwhile, cameras are in use around the state. According to a survey last summer by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, about 40 police departments have indicated they have at least one body camera.

In St. Paul, how they’re implemented will depend on what happens at the Capitol, a police spokesman told us, but the department’s plan called for a pilot program this summer, with deployment of body cams in 2017.

In Burnsville, Chief Eric Gieseke recently was honored by MNCOGI for providing a model for use of the technology by other law enforcement agencies across the state.

Ours may be an anything-goes world where anyone with a cellphone can record virtually anything, but with police body cams there’s too much at stake to rush to a conclusion.

Minnesotans should be wary of legislative maneuvers that would cut short the hard work of analyzing the trade-offs and finding the right balance.

If it takes another year to produce a well-informed Legislature, fine.


The Free Press of Mankato, April 1

Road funding inaction costs taxpayers money

Minnesota taxpayers are losing about $3.75 million a month because the Minnesota Legislature has not passed a comprehensive transportation bill.

That’s the monthly inflationary cost of fixing only state highways, excluding county state aid highways, municipal highways and all kinds of other transportation costs.

We spend about $900 million a year on the state highways. The Transportation Finance Advisory Committee (TFAC) two years ago said inflation costs for fixing roads ran about 5 percent. We suspect it’s even more now. Hence our minimal annual loss to inflation is about $45 million.

And this committee, made up of elected officials from both parties, business, and representatives from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said keeping funding as it is with no new funding stream would eventually put about 25 percent of all state highways in poor condition.

So the Legislature has been in session for about a month and nothing significant has been done. That’s a $3.75 million bill to taxpayers.

But it gets worse. Even if legislators add $250 million more per year to state highways alone, a 27 percent increase, we’ll still have the same amount of terrible roads we have today - about 7 percent, according to the TFAC study done in 2012. MnDOT now says that number is 9 percent. The longtime goal of MnDOT and the state to have 2 percent to 3 percent of roads in poor condition is a pipe dream.

You might say 7 percent terrible roads is something we’ll have to live with in these austere times, but that logic doesn’t really work. When a road gets into “poor” condition, it is exponentially much costlier to fix.

Take Highway 22 south of Mankato. MnDOT thought it could pave 12 miles from Blue Earth County Road 90 to Mapleton with a quick fix, cheaper mill and overlay project. That involves scraping the old roadway and putting a new layer of blacktop over it. It would cost about $1.3 million per mile.

But fixing the road has been delayed year after year due to funding shortages. So after further review and inspection, MnDOT determined the road had to be fully reconstructed at a cost of about $1.95 million per mile.

So, the inaction of the Legislature cost taxpayers $650,000 per mile, or about $7 million, on this project alone.

The road funding gridlock between Democrats and Republicans in the conference committee is more about how to pay for the road needs versus agreeing to what’s needed.

Democrats have proposed a partial gas tax or other fee and some diverting of money from the general fund. Democrats have moved toward compromise with this position, with their initial position being mostly gas tax funding and no general fund diversion.

Republicans want more general fund diversion. They argue a surplus allows us to do this without much pain or risk of other funding priorities, like schools, getting hurt. That’s true as long as we have a surplus.

The bottom line here is both sides have to bend. It’s hard to see how Republicans are doing that. Doing nothing or doing a little will not solve the long-term problem or the short term waste of taxpayer money.

The Legislature has to get this done. If they don’t, every taxpayer in every legislative district in every part of the state will be paying more than they should to fix our continually deteriorating roads. It’s getting more expensive every day.

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