MPD_George Floyd Protest

Minneapolis police clash with peaceful protestors who gathered in response to the murder of George Floyd on Tuesday, May 26.

In a special legislative session, the Minnesota House and Senate bowed to public pressure and passed a sweeping package of police reforms in the form of  Minnesota Police Accountability Act of 2020. 

Gov. Tim Walz implored a divided Minnesota Legislature to come together and pass the Police Accountability Act. Pressure was building on Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) to change his position on law enforcement reforms

Last month, Black Lives Matter held a protest at Gazelka’s workplace in Baxter, MN. Activist Philip Holmes, who was a part of the protest said, “I am delighted by this news, but we can stop here. This is only the first step toward getting justice for all the men and women killed by police hands.” 

Activists believe this bill will create “some transparency in policing” and police accountability. But many in the community feel that police reforms don’t go far enough. 

The bill proposes to stop the “warrior-style” training and chokeholds as a method of restraint. It looks at improved police training and establishes a new criminal offense for police conduct that constitutes murder or manslaughter.

One of the biggest issues is how do you test police officers for racist, homophobic, or misogynistic attitudes? And can psychological test screen racist attitudes?

For the past six years, every pre-entry police candidate must undergo the state’s requirement of an oral interview and a psychological evaluation to assess the applicant's mental stability.  The state uses Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory(MMPI-II) to screen candidates personality traits and responses such as: impulse control, judgment, reasonable courage, honesty, integrity and personal bias or lack of bias.

Ellen Kirschman, a police psychologist, has doubts about the effectiveness of this type of psychological test to detect racism.  She consulted with other psychologists to get a consensus on the best way to ferret out negative attitudes. Her colleagues believe that in addition to psychological testing, there should be a comprehensive background investigation supplemented by a polygraph, or lie detector test. 

A deep dive into the applicant's mind-set can reveal negative traits. Most screening psychologists use tests that measure tolerance, social competence, cynicism and teamwork.  While not specifically targeting racist, misogynistic or homophobic attitudes, the results can point to problematic attitudes. Once these attitudes are exposed, psychologists usually collaborate their findings with deep background checks and polygraph tests.

About 90 percent of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. require psychological screening of their applicants and only a few use polygraph exams.  The problem with polygraphs, some say, is that they are not  totally reliable and can deter candidates from diverse backgrounds from applying for jobs. Introducing a polygraph test would make it harder for police to recruit candidates from communities of color. 

All police departments see a diversified police force as a way to reach communities and address long-standing racial tensions in communities and high arrest rates of African Americans. A recent ABC News study concluded that “Black people were arrested at a rate five times more than white people in 2018.”

The data looked at 800 jurisdictions across the U.S. ts findings were shocking in some cases  black people were arrested at a rate five times higher than white people and In 250 jurisdictions, black people were 10 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts.

Currently in Minnesota pre-entry candidates will undergo a series of training which includes racial diversity, implicit bias and community understanding.  And officers are also required by law to undergo continuous educational training 

Erik Misselt, Interim Executive Director of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards Training (POST) said,  “There’s a renewal process that officers have to go through every three years. During that time police officers are required to complete a minimum of 48-hours of continual education annually.  They receive racial diversity training, the use of force training and every five years they do training on emergency vehicle operations. Most police departments do in-house training in addition to the mandatory training.” 

In 2018 the Minnesota legislature added a mandate which required all officers to train in crisis intervention and mental illness, conflict management and de-escalation.  

This training didn’t save George Floyd. 

Activist Holmes said, “We need to see real change. Not just training  we need a whole new way of protecting our community. Derek Chauvin had at least 17 misconduct complaints against him and still he was able to wear a police officer uniform and kill George Floyd.”

Chauvin, who was terminated after Floyd’s murder, was one of many police officers working in the Twin Cities with several misconduct charges.  Lt. Bob Kroll, head of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union representing the more than 800 police officers, has had 31 complaints filed against him. Over his 30 years on the force he has been suspended and demoted by the department, and sued several times for use of excessive force.  He still wears the uniform.

The ACLU, Black Lives Matter and Minneapolis Chapter of the NAACP believe that passage of the Minnesota Police Accountability Act of 2020 will lead to more police accountability.  But time will show if it really addresses ‘the heart of the problem’ and that is: how to determine –through testing—if officers hold racist, homophobic, or misogynistic attitudes.

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