The death of George Floyd while he was in Minneapolis police custody May 25 sparked an international social revolution.
At home, it sent politicians local and national scrambling to both understand and respond.
In the 8th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber is of many minds about the topic, but on the killing itself, the retired Duluth police officer said: “There is nothing in that video that I stood for as a law enforcement officer.”
Stauber, R-Hermantown, was disappointed his voice has been shut out of Democratic proposals that would change policing, and said he’s working with U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, on Republican counterproposals.
“I’m one of the very few people in Congress to have worn the local uniform of law enforcement,” Stauber said. "This is an opportunity for me to talk to colleagues on both sides about my policing and my experience and what I think needs to be done.”
Instead of putting forward radical ideas that will make communities less safe, let’s work together on policies that improve hiring standards, bolster training, increase # of body cameras, review arbitration practices, & implement community policing practices nationwide. (2/2)
Instead of putting forward radical ideas that will make communities less safe, let’s work together on policies that improve hiring standards, bolster training, increase # of body cameras, review arbitration practices, & implement community policing practices nationwide. (2/2)— Pete Stauber (@RepPeteStauber) June 8, 2020
Stauber’s opponents in the upcoming primary election in August and likely general election in November are of distinct minds on the topic, too. Republican Harry Welty, of Duluth, supports the sentiment behind a defund-the-police movement that has risen in the wake of Floyd’s death, while Democrat Quinn Nystrom, of Baxter, explained to the News Tribune why she won’t go so far as that.
“I’m not for abolishing the police; I’m not for defunding the police,” she said. “What I’m advocating for is public safety reform and looking at continuing investments in community programs.”
Nystrom added that racial injustices 400 years in the making won't be changed by legislation alone.
"If we are going to fundamentally fix and find solutions for systemic racism, we also have to be honest that, yes, this happened within a police department, but this happens in all different systems throughout America," she said. “If we’re going to fix it, that is going to go beyond a couple pieces of legislation. That is going to mean having national conversations with communities and activists and people who have been affected the greatest.”
On immediate measures, Nystrom and Stauber agree on the elimination of chokeholds.
“In my 23 years, we never allowed chokeholds,” Stauber said, advocating for wider implementation of the community policing model that has long been adopted in Duluth.
“You don’t police your community,” Stauber said. “You police with your community.”
Stauber made the example that rather than "running a radar gun on 52nd Avenue East" in Duluth, community policing requires departments to listen to the priorities of the communities, such as keeping parks safe in the evenings, and making sure trail heads weren’t being used for drug sales.
“You build trust with the community,” he said, “and you get results.”
But what about minority communities being disproportionately targeted by police?
“I’ve never worked in the Minneapolis Police Department,” Stauber said, “but I think you can look back and see where some conduct was definitely unbecoming, and there should be consequences when you don’t hold to the highest standard.”
Stauber wants the employment arbitration process that seems to resuscitate bad cops’ careers to be reviewed, and wonders if the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board that issues officers licenses could play a role in removing those licenses, too.
“Nobody dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop,” Stauber said.
Stauber also promotes minimum education standards, comprehensive psychological screening and extended background checks.
“So when you give that final offer to that candidate, you have a very good idea of who he or she is when you bring them into your department to serve the community for many, many years,” Stauber said.
He balked at curbing no-knock search warrants. The death by police gunfire in Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this year of innocent civilian Breonna Taylor in her own home following a no-knock search warrant has sparked further controversy in the examination of policing.
“I’ve been in situations on tactical teams where no-knock warrants are necessary for the safety of everyone, not only for police but the subject involved,” Stauber said. “The warrants have to be signed by a judge.”
Stauber calls the notion of defunding the police a radical idea that would make communities less safe.
Welty said the label of “defund the police,” is unfortunate, but that the sentiment behind it “makes perfect sense.”
“Pouring more money into police, giving them hand-me-down military equipment from our failed wars is not what we need to do,” Welty said. “The warrior ethic does not make sense. We need to have a different ethic. We need to have more Chief Tuskens.”
Welty was referring to Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken, who Welty said strikes a balance by making the community safe without “tactics of SWAT teams and martial law.”
"Duluth is lucky," Welty said.
Nystrom called the police "integral" to communities, and said she made a point of riding along with police when she was a Baxter city councilor. She once took part in an active sex-trafficking sting.
“It’s not just about putting people in jail for a crime,” she said. “It’s about giving assistance and resources to women who are victims.”
Nystrom knows she will be disappointing constituents within her party who are calling to rebuild the entire concepts of public safety and criminal justice.
“Running for office, it’s absolutely impossible to make everyone happy,” she said. "I would say that ‘I hear you, I want to hear more from you, and what I am telling you is that I am not OK with the status quo right now.'"
Earlier this year, the News Tribune wrote in-depth about a use-of-force incident involving Stauber. His partner during the incident, Jim Wright, confirmed that Stauber settled the chaotic scene by saying “stop” once the suspect was apprehended.
“I’ve done that a couple times in my career,” Stauber said. “We have to understand the situation officers are in. We have not only an obligation, we have a duty as partners to step in to de-escalate and defuse immediately.”