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Legislators consider requiring, funding Minnesota police diversity training

Minnesota state Rep. Brian Johnson of Cambridge sits in a Minnesota House committee Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, during which he said he supports legislation to help people switch careers to become police officers. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
Bloomington, Minn., Police Chief Jeff Potts tells a Minnesota House commitee Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, that he supports legislation to mandate and help pay for training that would allow people to change careers to become officers. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
Minnesota state Rep. Tony Cornish of Vernon Center oversees a committee Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, that approved his bill to mandate more law enforcement officer training. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL — Minnesota law enforcement officers, who have received minority community criticism after high-profile shootings and other incidents, likely soon will be required to take diversity training, partially at state expense.

Police groups not only welcome the concept, but presented it to state legislators.

"This will be a game changer for law enforcement," said Dennis Flaherty, who represents a coalition of law enforcement organizations.

State public safety organizations told Minnesota legislators this year that they want to better deal with minority communities and the mentally ill, as well as to better handle conflicts. Legislation would require officers be trained in those areas, and the state would increase training funding more than $16 million.

Besides the new training, the bill would make it easier for people in other careers to become law enforcement officers. That, police leaders said, could help bring more diversity to departments.

"We just are not finding the applicants" to hire minority officers, Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts told the House public safety committee Wednesday, Feb. 15, before it unanimously approved a bill by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, to increase training mandates, boost funding and make changes to allow easier mid-career changes for people who want to be cops.

Flaherty said he has no estimate of how many people may switch careers if the bill becomes law.

"I do like this idea," said Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, a veteran law enforcement officer. "It does increase the pool of possible candidates."

The legislation would provide about $1 million a year to pay up to half of training expenses for people in other careers to move to law enforcement. Potts said that people switching careers to become law enforcement officers may spend $32,000 for training.

The Minneapolis Police Department and State Patrol already have programs to encourage people to join them, which police officials say have been successful.

Most departments have diversity hiring policies in place, Potts said, "but at the end of the day they haven't proven to be very successful yet."

"Every department in a community that has a diverse community spends a tremendous amount of time recruiting," Flaherty said.

All officers would be required to take diversity training to keep their law enforcement licenses.

Now, law enforcement officers are required to take training in emergency driving and the use of force; other training topics can be picked by officers. With adding crisis intervention, mental health and diversity as mandates, about a third of training topics would be prescribed by the state.

"It will apply to every peace officer in Minnesota," Flaherty said.

Even officers in small towns with no minority population need the training, he said, because they must deal with people just passing through.

While Flaherty said the bill is not a direct response to police shootings involving young black men in recent years, he said it is an answer to some people who asked for changes as a result of the shootings. "We listened to what certain community representatives were saying and where they felt officers needed additional training and we just took off from there."

The new state aid will not pay for all the diversity training costs. Last year, the state paid cities $2.8 million for training that carried an overall $34 million cost, Flaherty said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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