FARGO — Almost two months after Minnesota toughened its deadly force law, Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner has asked the state to amend the statute so North Dakota law enforcement can operate in Minnesota under North Dakota law.
Jahner sent a letter on April 19 to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz requesting the state adopt an amendment to its recently implemented use of force law. Instead of forcing Cass County deputies to adopt two sets of laws, Jahner asked that Minnesota allow his and other agencies in North Dakota to follow North Dakota Century Code.
“We want to make sure an officer doesn’t find themselves in a situation where they don’t fully understand the change and now we have an innocent citizen get hurt, a suspect get hurt or another officer get hurt,” Jahner said Monday. “That’s our concern now.”
Jahner said Walz's office has confirmed that it received his letter.
"Minnesota and North Dakota have a long history of cooperation to protect public safety," Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann said Wednesday. "We are hopeful that law enforcement agencies will continue to work together to keep citizens safe."
Last year, the Minnesota Legislature updated its state law to require officers to apply a three-pronged test to determine whether they can use deadly force against a subject.
Some North Dakota agencies, including the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and police departments from Fargo and West Fargo, have halted aid to Minnesota agencies, including the Moorhead Police Department. They say the new legislation is open to interpretation by law enforcement and goes beyond what North Dakota officers have trained for based on federal case law.
The West Fargo Police Department has required officers to review Minnesota’s new law and watch a video shared by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association that addresses the changes, city spokeswoman Mattie Hjelseth said. The agency is still working on finding the best course of action to take before sending officers back into Minnesota, she added.
“That could include additional training and/or education or, potentially the worst case scenario, the permanent suspension of all enforcement operations in Minnesota,” she said.
The Grand Forks Police Department, which did not tell its officers to stay out of Minnesota, said it has provided Minnesota law training to its officers. It responds to situations in neighboring Polk County on a case-by-case basis, Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel said.
Jahner said in his letter to Walz that classroom and video training alone are not enough to prepare law officers. Officers spend hundreds or even thousands of training hours so they know how to react to deadly situations, he said.
Deputies would need classroom work, legal instruction and scenario-based training, Jahner said. Officers would be asked to know two state standards, determine which side of the river they are on, and then apply that state’s law in a matter of seconds or less than a second, he added.
“In my experience as a trainer, this will cause someone to get hurt,” he said in his letter.
Jahner questioned whether officers could be trained on two different state laws or if they will be able to respond appropriately under tense and rapidly evolving situations.
“It’s not something you can train someone to know, understand and apply two different use-of-force methodologies and standards in a three-second, tense life-threatening situation,” Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski said.
Leaders from regional task forces, including the metro-area street crimes unit and Red River Valley SWAT, continue to meet and share equipment with each other, Zibolski said. However, for now, officers on the west side of the Red River in Cass County won't go into Minnesota.
Zibolski said he hopes Minnesota changes its law so North Dakota and Minnesota agencies can continue those partnerships together but added he is cautiously optimistic.
Jahner said he is not trying to change Minnesota law but wants an amendment so North Dakota officers can assist Minnesota law enforcement, he said.
Cass County, Fargo and West Fargo have good relationships with agencies in Clay County, Jahner said. He doesn’t want to leave them hanging when they need help, he said.
“This has caused a huge public safety concern for both (Clay and Cass) counties and has put the citizens of Clay County in a situation where they are unable to draw resources from Cass County to help them in critical situations,” Jahner said in his letter to Walz.