Fargo, ND – Three North Dakota law enforcement agencies announced they have stopped participating in a mutual aid agreement with Minnesota law enforcement agencies along the states’ border because of Minnesota’s new deadly force statute.
Minnesota police were only given only 11-days warning ahead of the implementation of the new law, KVLY reported.
The statute used to say officers could use deadly force if a reasonable apparent threat of death or great bodily harm was present, the Grand Forks Herald reported.
The new law removed the word “apparent” from the law.
Clay County, Minnesota Attorney Brian Melton said the new law means that officers may no longer use deadly force when they feel there is an apparent threat, KVLY reported.
Melton said officers must now go through a three-part test before they use any force in the middle of dangerous, intense, life or death situations.
“The threat must be articulated with specificity, that’s it’s reasonably likely to occur absent the action the presence of the police officer and the threat must be countered without unreasonable delay,” Melton told KVLY.
The standard differs from what the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Graham v. Connor that says courts must rule on whether force was necessary under the circumstances, not the intent of an officer, the Grand Forks Herald reported.
Police officers in both Minnesota and South Dakota have said the new Minnesota law makes no sense.
The result of the swift implementation was that law enforcement agencies across the state had no time to interpret the law or train their officers on it, the Grand Forks Herald reported.
Officers have said it isn’t practical stop and go through the three-part test when they’re facing off with armed suspects or suicidal individuals, according to KVLY.
“If they go and engage that person and that person is holding a gun to their own head, but then they suddenly point it at the officer and that officer chooses to engage, that officer is in trouble or in violation of this statute because they can’t use deadly force to control an individual,” Melton explained.
As the new law went into effect, North Dakota law enforcement agencies started suspending mutual aid agreements with Minnesota police departments, KVLY reported.
The Fargo Police Department, the West Fargo Police Department, and the Cass County Sheriff’s Office all announced their agencies have suspended all operations in the state of Minnesota for the foreseeable future.
All three law enforcement agencies called the new law a risk to public safety and officer safety without proper education and training for the law enforcement officers who are supposed to follow it.
“It’s frustrating and concerning. We never want to leave our other law enforcement partners feeling like they’re out on their own and that we’re not able to respond,” West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness told KVLY.
Chief Otterness said it was a difficult decision but it was necessary.
He also said he had no idea how long it would be before South Dakota agencies could begin offering help to law enforcement along its Minnesota border again, KVLY reported.
“These are high-risk, high-liability situations and we have to have our staff properly trained before we ask them to go out and do the very difficult job they have to do,” Chief Otterness explained.
Because a number of law enforcement task forces that respond to critical incidents incorporate officers from both states, responses on the Minnesota side will be short 18 members of the SWAT team, down five members on the bomb squad, and minus four members of the Metro Street Crimes Unit until the problem is resolved, KVLY reported.
Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski was of the same mind as his counterpart in West Fargo when it came to protecting his law enforcement officers.
“I certainly don’t want to send one of our officers over there who’s involved in a deadly force scenario, and it’s found later, ‘Well, you’re in violation of Minnesota law and now you’re going to be charged with a crime.’ Whereas if the same situation happened in Fargo, they would not be charged with a crime,” Chief Zibolski said.
“Can you train someone to understand two different legal force standards in a second?” the chief asked. “These are very dynamic, two-to-three-second decisions that happen and lives are at stake here.
He said that there would be no exceptions to the suspension of the mutual aid agreement because his officers’ safety was top priority, KVLY reported.
“We just want to make sure that we are doing our due diligence to interpret it correctly put together some training and the whole goal of it of course is to make sure that public safety isn’t jeopardize and that our citizens are safe and we can respond safely to those situation that they are involved in and keep them safe,” Cass County Sheriff, Jesse Jahner told KVRR.
Police departments in Minnesota remained just as confused as their South Dakota counterparts but dipping out of the mess wasn’t an option for them, the Grand Forks Herald reported.
“I’ve read through the law,” Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson said. “There are some things that are clear as mud.”