Hamline News

Schaefer Tapped for POST Board Service

There is no bigger issue in Minnesota – or for that matter, the United States – than police reform. Now, a Hamline associate professor has an opportunity to have a significant say in how Minnesota law enforcement officers are trained.

Shelly Schaefer, who is associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science at Hamline, has been named to the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and is about to begin her three-year term on the state’s oversight board for police education, training and licensing.

“I am looking forward to this,” Schaefer said, “This is a critical time in law enforcement training and education. I want to actively participate in transformation.”

Speaking Up Led to POST Board Appointment

Perhaps ironically, it was an honest expression of opinion that made Schaefer a candidate for the board. After the death of George Floyd in police custody, Schaefer and other Hamline faculty members noted in an essay published in MinnPost in June 2020 that the POST board, which sets standards for training, didn’t have a way to evaluate how the training it advocated was administered, or how effective it was.

“We were very critical of the POST board,” Schaefer said. “We met with members of the Criminal Justice Reform committee and people realized that this couldn’t go on. How do we know who is offering continuing education training? What is their expertise to teach in certain areas? Where is tracking being done? They (the POST board) don’t have a system to track continuing education data. Many of the issues we were exposing, we felt strongly about. We want to use our expertise to help the POST board evaluate the quality of officer training and continuing education.”

Governor Walz selected Schaefer from a large field of applicants to be a member of the board.

“I’m excited to be a part of pushing some of the things that we have said need to happen,” she said.

Schaefer’s Expertise and Candor Welcome

One person looking forward to Schaefer’s board tenure is POST board chair Kelly McCarthy, who is police chief in Mendota Heights.

“One of the issues we have had with the POST board has been a lack of participation in the meetings,” McCarthy said. “We’re dealing with emotionally charged issues and some of our members are elected. They’re reluctant to go on the record and we have to change that. It’s so important that everyone really gets to share their experience and expertise without fear.”

“It’s not going to be an issue for me to speak candidly,” Schaefer said. “I’m not (a sworn officer), I’m not elected, that allows me the space to speak.”

McCarthy, who says she’s looking forward to working with Schaefer, notes that positions on the POST board are filled by state statute rather than by accepting general applications from interested parties. That has led to the situation the board currently faces.

“There is no ‘average member’,” McCarthy said. “We have to have so many police chiefs, sworn officers, civilians, elected officials, and so on.”

Minnesota Law Enforcement Training Must Address Systemic Issues

Schaefer knows that her assignment will involve high-priority work from a social, as well as a political, standpoint.

“I think accountability has been an issue for a long time,” she said. “We (the POST board) need to be conducting assessments. If I say ‘I can teach implicit bias’, how does the board know that? We not only need to set standards but need to continuously evaluate them while also including the voice of the community.”

McCarthy expects to have an ally in Schaefer, but notes that the issues surrounding police haven’t changed over the years.

“We have so much power that one bad incident is too many,” she said. “Look at our tragedies – Philando Castile, Justine Damond, George Floyd, and we ask, ‘why Minnesota?’ I appreciate that people think we are in uncharted territory, but we aren’t. The conversations from 1968 about police relations are the same as they are now. The difference is that now we’re having these conversations as power and access to police is increasing.”

Schaefer notes that the Defund the Police movement shares similarities with her point of view.

“Defund the Police isn’t saying we don’t want police,” she said. “Even police themselves will say they don’t want to go to certain calls. They’ll say, ‘I am not the best person to respond to this’. Should we keep increasing funding for police when they may not be the best people to respond, like on mental health calls? Maybe we should have social workers respond? When you call 911, though, the police are the only people who can be deployed.”

McCarthy says a true understanding of how systemic racism creates conditions that lead to crime will be helpful, and Schaefer agrees.

“It is important to understand that involvement in crime is correlated with social circumstances,” Schaefer said. “Police see people on their worst day, and that can change your perception, which creates bias. We need to be sure as part of our education that we address that. We need to change training to include needs of the community, include role-playing, and close the loop by assessing if it’s working.”

“We need better, more efficient, data-driven training, and systems of accountability in place to assist local agencies in holding officers to standards,” McCarthy said. “It is slow and methodical but with an underlying urgency. For a lot of people, law enforcement is working. But it has to work for everyone.”

Written by Jeff Papas.