Rochester’s Police Policy Oversight Commission has agreed to review and recommend potential changes for the police department's use-of-force policy within 30 days.
“We are on the cusp of making our current policy book be more robust than it is now,” Rochester Mayor Kim Norton told the commission Tuesday.
The group also is being asked to look at the department’s handcuffing and restraints policy and standards of conduct within the next month.
“I know that’s a heavy lift, but I’m asking you to do that,” Norton said. “Then, over the coming months, I would like all the new policies to be reviewed by this committee and taken to the community … in ways you deem appropriate.”
Commission members agreed to the challenge, but raised concerns about the potential results, citing past policy recommendations.
“It feels like our voices weren’t heard,” commission member Rebeca Sedarski said.
Commission member W.C. Jordan, who is also president of the NAACP Minnesota/Dakotas Area State Conference, raised similar concerns.
“We want our recommendations to be considered and be part of the conversation,” he said.
Tuesday’s commission discussion led to an immediate policy change.
Police Chief James Franklin agreed to define neck restraints as deadly force until the commission makes its final recommendations.
While some commission members suggested removing the use of neck restraints from the policy completely, others said it could be considered an action of last resort, but needs to be labeled as potentially lethal.
Rochester Training Sgt. Paul Gronholz said the chief’s change means the use can be part of training, but it helps limit potential use.
Franklin said the restraint technique hasn’t been used locally in recent years, according to department reports, which he also said show limited use of force by Rochester police.
He said 64 incidents of police officers using force have been recorded so far this year, among approximately 24,000 calls for service. During the same period, six official complaints were generated.
Last year, with nearly 64,000 calls, Franklin said 176 use-of-force reports were filed, and 50 complaints were received, with seven resulting in discipline.
Jordan questioned some of the numbers.
“There have been too many complaints about not being able to file a complaint,” he said, also raising questions about whether all uses of force are documented.
Sandra Ewing, the police department’s professional standards manager, said hearing allegations that complaints aren’t being made is disturbing.
“We don’t want people to suffer in silence and say nothing,” she said, adding that a complaint can be turned into any police department employee, which could include calling dispatchers or speaking to supervisors.
She said complaints are used to address policy concerns, but can also lead to providing public education when practices are questioned.
Once complaints are made, she said they are logged and she works to make sure proper follow-up actions are taken.
Franklin said the documentation of use of force does depend on officers’ reports, but he said routine audits of body camera footage and other reviews are in place to ensure reporting compliance.
As the policy oversight commission starts its work on new recommendations, it is also expected to grow.
The Olmsted County Human Rights Commission will appoint a member to fill a vacant seat since last year. The open seat, along with a recent resignation, has made it difficult for the commission to gather the five members needed for an official meeting in recent months.
Norton said she also plans to appoint a new member shortly. Applications for the seat are being accepted on the city’s website.