Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Civilian Oversight of Police Dismantled

It's a sad day for Minneapolis.  Our decades-long experiment in civilian oversight of the Minneapolis Police Department has been ended by a 7-6 vote of the Council.

The dismantling of the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) goes far beyond what was necessary to respond to the Legislature’s recent actions to hobble the CRA.  The CRA has been scrapped and replaced with a new "civilian oversight" process completely dominated by the police. A growing reluctance for people to bring complaints forward and a renewed erosion of public trust in the police will likely follow.

There are many problems with the changes that passed the Council today.  If someone was treated badly by a Minneapolis police officer before today's change, they could choose to have their complaint investigated by a civilian and sent to a board of civilians for their recommendation to the Chief.  After today's change, a complainant will no longer have any choice.  Their complaint may be investigated by a police officer, and the complainant will have no say in that matter.  Their complaint will be reviewed by a panel with two civilians and two police officers, and they will have no say in that either.

Does that seem like "civilian oversight"?  Not to those we have heard from at the public meetings (which, by the way, on my motion the Council required the Civil Rights department to hold, essentially against their will).  Not to the existing Civilian Review Authority's members.  Not to the National Association of Civilian Oversight.  Not to the Star Tribune's editorial board.  And not to me.

I attempted to make some minor tweaks that could have taken some of the hard edges off of this terrible proposal.  The most important would have added a single civilian "tiebreaker" to the proposed two-civilian, two-officer review panels that will make recommendations about complaints.  I would prefer to have no police on these panels, but my motion didn't go that far, just to go to a 3-2 majority of civilians.  This minor change even had the support of staff, but still did not pass.

Voting with me to help preserve this small vestige of civilian oversight: Council Members Lilligren, Glidden, Schiff, Quincy and Hodges.

Voting to end meaningful civilian oversight: Council Members Reich, Hofstede, Johnson, Samuels, Goodman, Tuthill, and Colvin Roy.

One last thing on process.  I fear that the Civil Rights Department has severely damaged its credibility with the community.  Not just because the outcome is terrible, but because the process has been so insular and non-transparent.

In past Business Process Improvement efforts that my office has seen firsthand, all of the impacted stakeholders have been at the table to help craft a solution that will work for everyone.  Council Members and their offices, for instance, have been at the table.  Rank and file staff members doing the work have been brought in early and often to e4xplore potential improvements. The citizen advisory groups have been engaged several times along the way. When we did a BPI process for the way that we appoint boards and commissions, that group reached out to everyone who touches the process - those who appoint people, members of boards and commissions, the Clerk's office, everyone.

That's not the way this process worked.  It appears that the top leadership Civil Rights, the Police Department, and the Attorney's Office crafted this proposal behind closed doors.  They didn't talk to the current folks on the CRA.  They didn't talk to community members who have concerns about police accountability.  As far as I can tell, they didn't talk to the National Association of Civilian Oversight.  They didn't even talk to Council offices!

No wonder we ended up with a bad outcome that lacks community support, lacks the support of the current CRA, drew criticism from national leaders on civilian oversight, drew the outright opposition of the Star Tribune, and could only muster eight votes on the Council (the votes are the same as the above, with CM Quincy jumping to the 'yes' side).

It's a sad, sad day.


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