Controversial policing law put on hold

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Moorhead Chief of Police Shannon Moore applauds the decision of a district court judge in Ramsey County to put Minnesota’s tougher – and unique – policing law on hold for the next 60 days and reverting to the previous law. That’s good news, potentially restoring the cross-border cooperation between the Moorhead department and Clay County Sheriff’s Department with their counterparts in Fargo and Cass County.

Cross-border mutual assistance was eliminated on the North Dakota side in March, shortly after the law went into effect. That halted all kinds of cooperation across the border, Monroe says, from aiding a patrol officer chasing a traffic violator who crosses a bridge to several longstanding, successful cooperative ventures – The Child Abduction Quick Response Team, the SWAT team and the Metro Street Crimes Unit.

Since the North Dakota agencies’ pull-out, Moorhead and Clay County have been on their own. Monroe has discussed the unique difficulties faced by border cities like Moorhead with a range of state officials; until hearing the surprising news, he had been told that nothing could be done.

Judge Leonardo Castro suspended the law passed by the Legislature in August 2020 that requires officers to provide specific reasons to justify using lethal force. Law enforcement agencies inside Minnesota sued, saying the standard it established violates officers’ constitutional protection against self-incrimination under the 5th and 6th amendments. The measure requires them to “articulate with specificity the need for the use of deadly force.”

“Force isn’t considered justified unless you provide the statement,” Monroe notes. “North Dakota didn’t want its officers operating under two different policing standards.” He adds, “I don’t blame them. If the situation was reversed, I wouldn’t send my officers to their side of the river.”

Several law enforcement associations sued the state, saying that standard would infringe on constitutional protections against self-incrimination. The law went into effect in March. “We were given only 11 days to train 10,000 Minnesota police officers,” the chief says.

Lawyers for the state sought unsuccessfully to have the case thrown out.

In granting the injunction Monday, Castro said he will decide the constitutional question later. “This Court concludes that plaintiffs’ challenge to the constitutionality of the peace officer use of force statute presents a “justifiable controversy.” “Plaintiffs need not wait for one of its members to be charged with a homicide crime before the question of the constitutionality of the provision Plaintiffs challenge is answered,” Castro wrote. “The uncertainty and insecurity would be unconscionable.”

Monroe says that the change to Minnesota’s standing laws came about “after a string of incidents in the Twin Cities, ending with George Floyd. This was part of police reforms in 2020.” While statewide legislators were concerned about the use of force, they didn’t consider the distinct challenges facing cities like Moorhead. “When your laws are greatly different, you can’t expect neighbors to subject their officers to your revisions.

“It’s one thing if you’re in Alexandria, surrounded 360 degrees by others under the same law. But that’s only 180 degrees for us, and they didn’t consider that. We’re just a small fish in a very large pond, and our concerns didn’t make much of a splash.”

As of this writing, he expected to hear from his North Dakota counterparts on resuming cross-border policing programs during the coming 60 days before the court’s scheduled hearings for a final decision.

“We knew it was temporary when we heard Monday, but there was relief. just the same,” Monroe says. “We’ve faced a lot of hurdles, and getting our case before a judge like this was a big one.”

In the end, he says, “the state legislature needs to go back and get it right – find a way to accomplish their reforms, but do it in a way that works better for our border cities. Out here, we just want to get our mutual aid restored.”

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