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Outside Investigators To Look At St. Paul Officer Shootings, Deaths

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The St. Paul Police Department has changed its policy on investigations into officer-involved serious injuries or deaths, the department announced Monday.

The police department says the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Hennepin County Sheriff's Office will now investigate the cases, also called "critical incidents." The police department's Homicide Unit used to lead the investigations.

According to the police, it's a shift to "better align its policies with national best practices and improve transparency" and is the result of a months-long discussion by a committee made up of senior-level leaders in the department, homicide investigators and representatives from the St. Paul Police Federation.

"Our priorities are to safeguard the integrity of the investigation, protect the rights of everyone involved and ensure that the public trusts its police department," Chief of Police Thomas Smith said. "The BCA and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office both have extensive experience with these types of investigations, so I am confident—and the committee agrees—that this is the right direction for our department at this time."

The decision means the policy change aligns with the recommendation by the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which recommended independent investigations into police shootings.

St. Paul police spokesperson Sgt. Mike Ernster says it took eight months to plan for the changes.

The department has investigated its own incidents for 162 years, since it was created.

"I think it comes with the reality of the climate right now and what we are going through, we want to maintain that support and be transparent," Sgt. Ernster said.

But American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota Executive Director Chuck Samuelson says third party investigations into officer-involved shootings don't achieve the level of transparency the public demands.

"What the ACLU really is looking for is a civilian review board with subpoena power, so they can force people to testify and the power to issue indictments," Samuelson said.

St. Paul Black Lives Matter movement organizer Rashad Turner sees the policy change as a call to continue protesting.

"We understand our voices are being heard but there is still a lot of work to do so there's no need to call this a victory," Turner said.

While the last year has been filled with protests across the streets of St. Paul, Sgt. Ernster says this policy change comes in light of recent federal recommendations from President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which calls for independent investigations into police shootings.

"We like to build support and trust within our own community so anytime we can take those steps and it is feasible we will," Sgt. Ernster said.

In Minneapolis, the police chief has asked the BCA to investigate all fatal officer-involved shootings since 2013.

The decision to investigate non-fatal shootings internally is decided case by case. Implementation of the type of civilian review board the ACLU hopes for is rare at this point.

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