Minn. State Rep. Wants Budget Talks Stopped Until Public Safety Bills Are Passed
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A year of intense focus on police killings is adding pressure on lawmakers to act in Minnesota. The state where George Floyd was killed, where Derek Chauvin is now on trial and where an officer shot Daunte Wright last weekend is debating police reforms. State Representative Cedrick Frazier is on the line. He's vice chair of the Public Safety Committee in the Minnesota House and has called on lawmakers to stop their current budget negotiations until they pass public safety bills.
Representative Frazier, good morning.
CEDRICK FRAZIER: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What changes are you seeking?
FRAZIER: Right away, we've drafted up bills to deal specifically with the stop that was the reason the officers pulled over Mr. Wright, as well as bills that we've already heard through our committee that deal with police accountability measures such as body camera footage and qualified immunity.
INSKEEP: And that's interesting when you talk about the stop. I think about this incident, the official version of events - and there's video to back it up - is that the officer thought she was reaching for a Taser, instead reached for a gun. I know there's skepticism about that, but that's the official version of events. It sounds like you're saying, though, that the real problem was that there was a traffic stop at all. Is that right?
FRAZIER: Yeah. I think - you know, see, what we know from data, it tells us that Black indivi- (ph) Black males particularly are pulled over at a higher rate than other residents in particular areas. And so what we're trying to do is bring down or eliminate those problematic interactions as much as we can so that they don't lead to escalations and lead to deaths like they did with the Daunte White - Daunte Wright - sorry.
INSKEEP: How do you avoid that kind of bias as a matter of law? Do you specify when police can pull people over in a different way?
FRAZIER: That's exactly what this bill will do. It will specify specifically when law enforcement can engage drivers and pull them over. In this situation, we would - we would put a very narrow area of what law enforcement officers can pull people over for.
INSKEEP: Like what?
FRAZIER: In this instance, we would not allow law enforcement officers to pull folks over specifically for expired tags or for an air freshener hanging from your rearview mirror.
INSKEEP: Really, there'd be an actual prohibition in the law?
FRAZIER: It would be very narrow and limited, too. The officers will still be able to pull folks over if they have reasonable suspicion that they are committing a crime or there's a more pressing reason to pull them over, like if someone is speeding or if there is a turn signal that isn't working that would make driving dangerous.
INSKEEP: OK. So they need to - I mean, I don't want to use a legal term and get a little wrong. But there has to be, like, kind of a crime in progress or just some illegal activity in progress that is clearly dangerous to someone.
FRAZIER: That is correct, Steve.
INSKEEP: What else can you do to lessen the danger of this kind of incident?
FRAZIER: Well, we're absolutely looking at ways we can do more training. I mean, in this situation, we're expecting officers to be trained to stay calm in situations like that. I just really think that Mr. Wright did not really pose a threat from my view watching that video. And we could have just handled it differently and maybe not be having this conversation and particularly considering we're in the middle of the trial for Chauvin.
INSKEEP: What do you think of more dramatic efforts at police reforms, people who say defund the police, which commonly means reduce the police budget, and people who actively say abolish the police - there just should not be a department in the government called the police?
FRAZIER: I am absolutely - I am absolutely open to conversation and looking at what we can do to create a system where we do not have our police officers responding to every issue that we have in society. I mean, I've spoken to many officers. I have some good relationships with police chiefs and rank-and-file officers, and they talk about the calls that they get, and they are sent out to every single call. And in some cases, what we have is just - we have officers that are unprepared to engage in those situations. They are trained to deal with specific and often cases dangerous situations. And sometimes we just don't need officers that are there armed with weapons to deal with those situations.
INSKEEP: Do you have police officers who say, actually, yes, please take away the responsibility from us of certain kinds of calls and situations?
FRAZIER: We do have some officers that would like to see situations where they're not called out to where they would not need to be in those situations, absolutely.
INSKEEP: Have you had people in your office who have said there just needs to be some kind of public service agency, there just should not be a police force?
FRAZIER: Yeah, we've absolutely had folks in our office, folks in the community, even some officers that say we should really have an overall public safety system that really has different areas that can deal with specific issues so that you're not sending an armed officer out for every particular call that comes in.
INSKEEP: Are you willing to go there?
FRAZIER: I am absolutely willing to have those conversations and to look at ways that we can develop that. At the end of the day, Steve, the most important thing is that we create a public safety system that is really going to protect and serve everyone.
INSKEEP: And is the urgent thing now, then, just to get something passed, like this bill on traffic stops, something that addresses the immediate feeling of crisis?
FRAZIER: I think so. The urgent thing now is to get something - the urgent thing now is to get something that moves directly in a direction of addressing the most urgent and pressing issue that we see in front of us now. And then overall, like I said, we have bills that we've been moving through this year in session that are also some overall police reform, accountability measures that we can put in place as well.
INSKEEP: Representative Frazier, it was a pleasure talking with you this morning.
Thanks for joining us so early.
FRAZIER: Thank you for having me, Steve.
INSKEEP: Cedrick Frazier is a Minnesota state representative. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.