Community groups raise concerns over police officer crime records

Are Minnesota police officers getting off too easy when they commit low-level crimes? Some members of the community say there's very little discipline for officers and they're looking for change. But the group might be bringing their concerns to the wrong place.

A corner news conference in St. Paul brought together several groups, including Communities United Against Police Brutality.

“This is a big day of course because the [Peace Officer Standards and Training] board is being called out for some of its actions so that people are paying attention,” said Dave Bicking of Communities United Against Police Brutality.

The group gathered to confront the state's POST board. They're concerned that there are officers policing who shouldn't be because they were convicted of various misdemeanor crimes like DWI, assault, domestic assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct. A report in the Star Tribune says there are currently 140 officers at work statewide with criminal convictions.

“There is no profession that I can think of where the only way to lose your license is to commit a felony and then you still might not,” said Jess Sundin of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar.

But the POST board says there's nothing it can do. Misdemeanor convictions fall outside its jurisdiction. The legislature has only empowered the POST board to deal with felony convictions in which case licenses are automatically revoked by the board. The discipline for misdemeanors happens at the local level with police chiefs and sheriffs.

“Law enforcement is a locally controlled public service in this state,” said Nathan Gove, the executive director of POST. “The 433 agencies - I do believe that chiefs and sheriffs within the confines of collective bargaining arbitration and overall labor rules they do hold officers accountable.”

“The POST board, while it needs higher standards, while it needs legislative authority, has done virtually nothing with the standards and authority it already has,” said Bicking.

The Star Tribune story also points out some fairly severe cases of domestic violence with officers where the charges were ultimately reduced. They kept their jobs and in some cases re-offended.

Gove said the primary purpose of the POST board is to focus on education and training - not discipline. It is not a statewide internal affairs organization. If that were to change, the orders will have to come from the Legislature.