Bemidji City Council moves forward with police advisory board during first in-person meeting of the year

The Bemidji City Council met Tuesday for its first in-person meeting at City Hall since the coronavirus pandemic hit last year to discuss several issues, with a key one being the creation of a new board on policing.

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The Bemidji City Council gathers on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, at City Hall for its first in-person meeting since the coronavirus pandemic hit last year. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji City Council met Tuesday for its first in-person meeting at City Hall since the coronavirus pandemic hit last year to discuss several issues, with a key one being the creation of a new board on policing.

The advisory committee has been in the making for about a year, as city staff has reviewed what other communities have done and discussed what the size and scope should be with elected officials. On Tuesday night, the framework for the committee was presented to the council.

Titled the Community and Police Advisory Board, the new group is set to have 11 members, with the Bemidji Police Chief and one city council member participating as non-voting participants. The remaining nine will be interested residents.

During the council's meeting, staff and elected officials welcomed citizens to enter the application process for the board, which will be open through August. The mission of the board will be to establish lines of communication between the community, the Bemidji Police Department and the council.

The goal of creating such a board goes back more than a year. In August 2020, the council held a listening session to hear testimonies and opinions from residents about what a police advisory group should look like.


On Tuesday, to make the board a reality, the council held its first reading on an ordinance to officially create the group. As part of the ordinance process, the second reading, which will take place during the council's July 19 meeting, is set to include a public hearing.

Once formed, the board will be able to review police-related incidents and provide feedback. However, according to Minnesota statutes, the board will not receive complaints initiated against police personnel and have no authority to investigate or participate in personnel matters.

Additionally, the board will not be able to participate in or review civil or criminal litigation. This is based on state law, which prohibits civilian review boards from having the authority to make a finding of fact or determination regarding a complaint against an officer.

The state also prevents boards to impose discipline on an officer. Minnesota rules do allow boards to make recommendations, but they can only be in an advisory capacity and are non-binding.

Those looking to join the new board will have to participate in an interview process and a criminal background investigation. Disqualifying items may include charges or convictions related to drug sales or possession, maltreatment of vulnerable adults, assaults, criminal sexual conduct, obstructing the legal process, theft, burglary, robbery or financial crimes.

Members also must complete eight hours of ride-alongs with Bemidji officers within three months of appointment. To determine who makes the board, the applicants will be interviewed by City Manager Nate Mathews, Mayor Jorge Prince and At-Large Councilmember Daniel Jourdain.

While discussing the matter, Ward 4 Councilmember Emelie Rivera said she hopes those with past convictions won't be overlooked for membership.

"Anybody who's served their time, they've done their requirement," Rivera said. "They're allowed to vote, they're allowed to do all kinds of things. I don't know why we'd be limiting our committees. What is the point of rehabilitating if you are not being brought to the table?"


Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin did clarify that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension does have some restrictions when it comes to accessing law enforcement buildings and vehicles.

In his comments, Ward 2 Councilmember Josh Peterson called the board a "great starting point."

"The success of this will be based on the makeup and diversity of this board," Peterson said. "So, I fully support starting things here and seeing how it evolves."

"It's on our entire community," Prince said. "We want a broad, diverse group of folks to apply. We want to have a lot of applications from all walks of life, background and cultures. Ultimately, they're the ones who're going to be partnering with our law enforcement to work together to create a better, safer Bemidji for us all. I believe if we give it an honest try, show each other some grace and work hard at it, we can take our community one step forward."

Rural hunting rules

Later in Tuesday's meeting, the council held its second reading on an ordinance amendment to allow residents recently annexed into the city from Northern Township to continue hunting on their property. The move stems from action taken last year when the council approved a resolution temporarily suspending its enforcement of the city's firearms, bows and hunting ordinance.

The council passed the resolution as property owners who were annexed live in rural areas and were able to hunt under township rules.

Should the new ordinance amendment pass with a third reading, property owners who desire to hunt or trap on their property would be able to do so after registering with the city on an annual basis. As part of the amendment, firearms approved for such hunts would be limited to shotguns and muzzleloaders.

Additionally, the amendment prohibits the use of shotgun slugs and requires a minimum ownership parcel size of five acres.


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Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews, left, and Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince listen to a concerned citizen speak on issues related to Northern Township during the open comment period of a city council meeting on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, at City Hall. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Another item for the council Tuesday was authorizing Mathews to work on creating an agreement for the city to partner with the Bemidji Community Arena Corp. for the next three years. In March, the city and BCA Corp. came to an agreement allowing renters to use one of the sheets of ice at the arena until Sept. 1.

The agreement was reached in March, as the city faced uncertainty with its own arena, Neilson Reise. Built in 1964, the Neilson Reise Arena complex has two sections, one is a 28,500 square-foot facility with an ice rink, and the other is a 19,000 square-foot section, which is home to the Bemidji Curling Club.

For most of 2020, Neilson Reise was closed because of the coronavirus, but its issues go back farther. The building continues to age and the equipment for the rink uses a refrigerant that's no longer produced.

The BCA, meanwhile, is a 101,000 square-foot ice complex with two sheets, the second one opening in 2020. It's home to the Bemidji High School's boys and girls hockey programs, as well as Bemidji Youth Hockey.

The existing agreement includes the BCA making all reasonable attempts to provide access to the community and to rent ice to traditional Neilson Reise users, such as the Bemidji Figure Skating Club. Additionally, the city moved its Neilson Reise manager to BCA to assist with operations.

A potential new agreement would extend the partnership through Dec. 31, 2024. During the meeting, along with discussing the proposed extended agreement, it was recommended that the Neilson Reise Arena remain closed.


The agreement will be brought before the council on Aug. 2 for approval.

The full meeting can be viewed on the city's website .

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Central Elementary second-grader Calder Murray leads the Bemidji City Council in the Pledge of Allegiance ahead of its weekly meeting on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, at City Hall. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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