By Michael K. Browne, Director – Office of Police Conduct Review
The level of transparency and access with respect to the civilian oversight process has been highly apparent since the creation of the Office of Police Conduct Review in September 2012. In efforts to maintain and promote this level of transparency and to ensure that civilians are embedded in every stage of the process, the Police Conduct Oversight Commission will review summary data on a monthly basis. The data will consist of approximately 126 case synopses throughout a given year and approximately 36 case summaries. The case synopses will be presented to the Commission monthly and are randomly selected from cases closed by the OPCR within the past three months, excluding those that did not involve the Minneapolis Police Department and those that contained no allegations of misconduct. The synopsis briefly illustrates the events leading to the complaint and the process utilized by the OPCR to resolve the complaint. Moreover, to comply with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), identifying information has been removed to ensure that all case synopses are available to the public.
To provide a higher level of transparency, cases will be selected for summary by the Commission from the monthly case synopses. Case summaries contain the details of a complaint from the date of the incident to its closure. They provide the Commission an in-depth look into a complaint to allow for a robust discussion of police practices and procedures. Case summaries will also have identifying information removed to ensure that they remain available to the public. As time progresses, the Police Conduct Oversight Commission may continue to expand transparency through various methods, which includes (but not limited to): programs of research and studies made available to the public, outreach activities and reports.
The Commission’s use of summary data will not be an attempt to redefine the concept of transparency to narrow its meaning and application. Instead, it is acting in accordance with its own enabling legislation as well as the Minnesota Government Data Practice Act with a focus on broad-stroke policy issues. The summary data format will not leave unanswered any questions the public may have regarding the conduct and discipline of the officers involved or the process of the police conduct oversight ordinance in general. Nevertheless, just like other government institutions that handle sensitive information, an appropriate balance must be achieved. A comparable comparison is the educational system with regards to student discipline. Similar to a parent’s concern about the disciplinary action bestowed upon an alleged act of misconduct by a student at their children’s school, the public is concerned as to what actions are being taken regarding police misconduct. Although the principal has a duty to inform the parents, his or her duty is limited by the confidentiality s/he must uphold towards the students and teachers.
It is true that civilian oversight agencies in Minnesota operate with a certain level of discretion, but with that authority, comes great responsibility; and our responsibility is to
“promote adherence to the highest standard of police conduct and foster mutual respect between the Minneapolis Police Department and the community it serves.”