POST board advances ban on police officers with white supremacy, hate group ties

Affiliation with white supremacist or hate groups would be grounds for Minnesota to deny or revoke a police officer's license under changes approved by the state's police standards board Friday.

The Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, or POST, sent a series of rule changes that govern officers' conduct to an administrative law judge for review. The new standards could take effect next spring or summer.

The POST board, a normally quiet 17-member panel that includes a mix of police and community members, has been looking to assert itself following the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. DFL Gov. Tim Walz appoints the board's members.

"I think people expect that a licensing agency has some sort of say over how those people behave in public, and historically the POST board could not," said the panel's chair, Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy. The board's disciplinary authority is limited, typically after a licensee has been convicted in criminal court.

The hate group prohibition has received the most scrutiny since members proposed it in 2020. Spreading hate material or participating in online forums would be grounds for the state to deny or revoke a license.

McCarthy said she was unaware that any current Minnesota police officer had such an affiliation. Still, community activists cheered the board's decision.

"You can either be committed to the safety and well-being of all humanity, or you can believe that only certain groups of individuals are worthy of dignity and protection," Rev. Elijah McDavid III of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in north Minneapolis told reporters this week.

The POST board received hundreds of public comments since its members first proposed the change. The overwhelming majority were positive, agency staff said.

Police groups have criticized the plan. This summer, the Minnesota Sheriffs Association said it opposed multiple changes.

"While I suspect we all agree we do not want bigots in law enforcement, we do not always (agree) on what a bigot is," said Richard Hodsdon, the association's general counsel.

Law enforcement groups were also opposed to a second proposal that would require police applicants to provide more information during a background check. For example, an applicant would have to say whether he or she had made false statements that prosecutors had to disclose in court.

Police groups said the state Legislature, not the appointed POST board, should make such changes.

"Not only do we believe that these changes won't achieve the desired outcomes of increased public trust, but we believe it will negatively impact recruiting and retaining efforts, in an already challenging environment," wrote Sgt. Sherral Schmidt, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation.

McCarthy said the POST board has adjusted the new standards in response to concerns over the past two and a half years of debate.

Individual law enforcement agencies already have similar rules in place to govern officer conduct. The issue here is the state licensing standard, she said.

"I want people to want we heard you. We understand that systematic racism is a real thing," McCarthy said. "We are going to do everything we can to make sure that the officers we hire in Minnesota understand that police are at their best when they’re fighting for justice, and racism is an injustice."