Willmar Police Department officers are required by policy to intervene and report unethical behavior by colleagues

A Willmar Police Department vehicle is shown in Willmar in this May 2020 file photo. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — Weeks of ongoing worldwide protests and civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd by former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin have brought scrutiny on policing tactics and oversight, particularly in the United States.

Police departments in the U.S. do not operate under a central national authority, and policies and tactics often vary from department to department.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday which provides financial incentives for law enforcement entities to comply with certain standards but does not require police departments to do so. The order also establishes steps to create a national database of police misconduct.

Statewide, law enforcement is already required to be certified by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training by completing an educational program and passing a state board exam.

In Willmar, local law enforcement officers are managed by the police chief, but the three-person Willmar Civil Police Commission oversees the department.


Established in 1956, the commission oversees the activities around hiring officers, discipline of those officers and provides overall direction to the police chief, according to Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin.

To be appointed to the commission, members of the community may apply to the mayor’s office and then be approved by the Willmar City Council.

The police commission, which meets at least once a year and additional times as called by the police chief, supplies a report for the City Council to review after each meeting and any serious complaints against the department require the commission to notify the council.

Calvin also said residents will contact him with complaints that he then forwards to the police chief.

“A lot of the time, it’s a miscommunication or it’s something that didn't turn out the way somebody wanted it to turn out. So they think they can go to the mayor and ask the mayor to overturn a ticket or overturn something that happened,” Calvin said. “But the mayor doesn’t have that authority.”

Calvin said he’s had talks with Felt regarding use of force policies in the department and he thinks Felt has been open with any questions or concerns he had.

Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin

I would like to say that what happened in Minneapolis should not have happened and I don’t condone that behavior, nor does the Willmar community as a whole condone that activity,” Calvin said. “But at the same time, police are put in difficult situations every day.”


A sentiment echoed by Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt and Capt. Michael Anderson.

Willmar Police Captain Michael Anderson

"I want to be clear, what the officer in Minneapolis did was not a chokehold, neck restraint or shoulder pin restraint," Anderson wrote via email. "What people saw in the video is not anything that the Willmar Police Department teaches, nor any other department that I’m aware of."

According to Felt, Willmar Police Department policy requires officers to intervene, if it’s safe to do so, and to report if they see a fellow officer doing something wrong, whether it’s use of force or an ethical issue.

Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt

“If you see an officer making what you believe to be unethical decisions or maybe being untruthful in reports or embellishing in reports or something, you’re required to notify a supervisor about that,” Felt said.

Felt said that along with use-of-force training, all officers go through de-escalation training that adds to an officer’s wheelhouse when it comes to dealing with the public.

Officers go through role-playing during their use-of-force training, responding to a situation in which someone may start lashing out.


Willmar officers also go through online training through the League of Minnesota Cities that focuses on de-escalation and implicit bias training.

“We want to reinforce good behavior, good de-escalation techniques and things like that,” Felt said.

The Minnesota POST board does not have a set standard of the number of hours of training that law enforcement is required to have regarding use of force, but the department spends 14 hours a year on defensive tactics training and 16-18 hours on firearms training every year, according to Anderson.

Officers have a force continuum they follow when responding to a call, which ranges from simply arriving to a situation to the use of deadly force.

“If an arrest needs to be made or somebody needs to be taken into custody, we always want to do that with the least amount of force possible,” Felt said.

Anderson wrote that the department is taught a neck restraint called a "shoulder pin restraint," which is a control and compliance technique.

In the department's use of force continuum, it falls under "hard, empty hand control" — a technique that does not require the use of equipment.

These techniques are historically not meant to be used for any significant amount of time.


"We believe it’s a viable control technique, but in my 22 years with WPD, I have never seen it used outside of training," Anderson wrote. It’s a technique that can be used to de-escalate a situation in the event law enforcement cannot access other tools we have," such as a Taser stun gun or pepper spray.

According to Felt, of the almost 19,000 calls for service in 2019, the vast majority of them were positive and without any issues. Of those that require an arrest, the vast majority occur with no use of force beyond handcuffing or verbal commands.

Felt said any use of force is recorded by the department and the system flags multiple uses of force by officers. Following that flag, the department investigates whether that use of force was justified and if not, an internal investigation will begin.

People are also able to file a complaint with the department, which would also require an investigation.

In 2019, three internal investigations were done by the department. All complaints were determined to be unfounded.

If the investigation were to be founded, any criminal acts would be forwarded to the county attorney's office for review for possible criminal charges.

For strictly policy violations, depending on the severity of the issue and the officer's history, possible discipline could range from a verbal reprimand to a letter in the officer's file, loss of vacation time, time off without pay, rank reduction, reassignment or requirements to go through specific training like anger management.

Felt said that information about any internal investigations is required to be sent to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension every year.


When compared to the Minneapolis Police Department, Felt said he is not sure about their policies but said his department is strict.

When fully staffed, the Willmar Police Department would have 35 sworn officers along with about 10 support staff, a number that is easier to manage than Minneapolis PD's 800 sworn officers and 300 civilian staff, according to Felt.

"So it's probably a little bit easier to do the early interventions, and if there was a discipline issue or something, to get that done right away," Felt said.

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at
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