While people throughout Minneapolis continue to be devastated and shaken by the police killing of Amir Locke on Feb. 2, lawmakers have been working to respond.
The formal investigation of the shooting is being done by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The results of that investigation will be shared with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and State Attorney General Keith Ellison, who will determine if there will be any charges and prosecution of the officers involved, including officer Mark Hanneman who has been identified as the officer who shot Locke.
All this is happening while the police department is under ongoing investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, while three officers involved in the George Floyd murder are currently on trial in federal court, and there is a new leader at the Minneapolis Police Department.
Since Feb. 2, ethics complaints against the mayor have been filed and some, including Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah, have called for his resignation. “I am standing with my constituents,” she said at the last council meeting, “who are calling on the strong mayor who has sole authority over MPD to resign.”
Locke’s death occurred during an unannounced entry, or no-knock, search warrant and this took many by surprise because both the mayor and the state legislature had tried to impose stiffer restrictions on their use in 2020, following the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville., Ky., that also happened during such a search warrant.
Within days of Locke’s death, Mayor Frey clarified that the officers in this case were following the policy that was updated in November 2020. That policy, despite being referred to as a “ban” on no-knock warrants on the mayor’s campaign website, still allowed officers to request and execute the so-called no-knock warrants without knocking but did require them to announce their presence as they entered the threshold of a residence, which these offices appear to have done on the body camera video that has been released.
On Feb. 4, the mayor placed a moratorium on requesting or executing no-knock warrants unless there is “an imminent threat of harm to an individual or the public and then the warrant must be approved by the chief.” During the moratorium, the mayor will work with DeRay McKesson of Campaign Zero and Dr. Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University to review and suggest revisions to the department’s policy.
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the invitation of Ward 5 Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, chair of the Policy & Government Oversight Committee, St. Thomas associate professor Rachel Moran, and law student Sarah Murtada, along with attorneys Ben Crump, Jeff Storms, and Antonio Romanucci, as well as Mayor Frey, spoke before the committee.
“They are dangerous,” said Moran, about the unannounced entry/ no-knock search warrants. “Between 2010 and 2016 at least 94 people were killed in the United States as a result of no-knock warrants.” Thirteen of those were police officers.
Murtada informed the committee that St. Paul has not used these types of search warrants since 2016, and it did not seem to reduce arrest rates or police safety. “We’re looking at these two cities – one that uses no knock warrants, one that doesn’t – and we’re not seeing any difference in officer’s safety,” she said. “And we’re also not seeing that no-knock warrants create a higher clearance rate or solve more crimes.” Several cities, she informed the committee, including Santa Fe, Indianapolis and Louisville have outright bans.
Council President Andrea Jenkins expressed her “commitment, at the bare minimum, in this conversation, on banning no knock warrants in the city of Minneapolis… We need to learn from these events so we can prevent them in the future.”
Within days of the committee meeting, the Interim Minneapolis Civil Rights Director, Alberder Gillespie, announced that the department’s Office of Police Conduct Review will conduct a special review of the city’s no-knock search warrant policy. Gillespie said that “they will have the authority to request unrestricted access to the records of the Minneapolis Police Department for that purpose, to the extent authorized by law.” The special review will focus on identifying and recommending specific changes and improvements to current policy and procedures.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 8, several DFL state legislatures announced that they were introducing legislation to add restrictions on the use of no-knock warrants. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Athena Hollins from St. Paul, said, “No-knock warrants are a tool in a toolbox, but it’s a tool that should only be used in the tiniest sliver of cases: kidnapping, hostage situations and human trafficking. No-knock warrants are bound to kill more innocent people, which is why we need to stop using them.” The specific language is expected soon with a public hearing likely to be scheduled by the end of the month.
DFLers in the House have also introduced a $100 million public safety plan that would fund local violence prevention efforts, community policing, crime investigations, opiate abuse and addiction prevention, police cameras and more.
“No knock warrants are an unreasonable violation of the fourth amendment and should be banned. I hope we will have bipartisan support for this effort,” said Representative Aisha Gomez (62B) about the proposal. Representative Esther Agabje (59B) also supports the effort, and said, “This is a step in the direction towards transformational change.”
At the city level, additional avenues for improving safety and policing have recently emerged.
On Feb. 10, the city council approved Ward 13 council member Linea Palmisano’s motion to introduce ordinance amendments related to the police department and police oversight. Palmisano also said that she is working on the establishment of an Office of Independent Monitor to review policies and practices of the police department.
Abigail Cerra and Jordan Sparks, Chair and Vice Chair of the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission, have recommended moving Police Oversight to the Independent City Auditor’s Office. They wrote in a letter shared at the commission’s last meeting, “In this way the council, acting under the authority of the newly passed Charter Amendment, can set up a police oversight system with the two essential elements of oversight: independence and access to non-public data.” The commission is expected to continue discussion of the recommendation at its meeting on March 8.
During the most recent Audit Committee Council Ward 11 council member Emily Koski introduced the idea of creating a Police Accountability Auditor and team that could “create the proper checks and balances between the police department, mayor, and city council.”
Finally, on Feb. 10, Ward 1 council member Elliot Payne gave notice that he will be introducing a new ordinance for the council to consider that would amend the charter and create a new Department of Public Safety. His intention is to pursue passage of the charter amendment by unanimous approval of the city council and mayor rather than put it before Minneapolis voters in November. “I will be working with my colleagues in city hall in the coming days to draft this ordinance and gain the unanimous support of all 13 city council members and the mayor,” he wrote in a recent email, “in an effort to create a department of public safety as soon as possible.” The council will vote on whether or not to refer this to a committee at their next meeting on Feb. 24.
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