The Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) has been asked: what are case synopses and what is their purpose?
To answer the question briefly: case synopses are short textual presentations of randomly selected cases closed by the OPCR in the past three months that are provided to the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) at its monthly meeting. The synopses allow the commissioners to select cases for longer summaries, assess patterns of community concern, and deliberate on potential policy considerations and recommendations.
Anatomy of the Case Synopses
The synopses have three main parts, a short summary of the complaint, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) policy implicated, and the case’s outcome. In short, the summary of the complaint means just that, only a summary of the alleged misconduct, as articulated by the complainant. This focus on only the language of the complaint (versus all the information in case file) mirrors the direction from the Police Conduct Oversight System’s ordinance to the Commission to “[c]ollect, review, and audit summary data … relating to complaints of police officer misconduct.” Minneapolis Code § 172.80(f)(2)(emphasis added). The second part of the synopses, the MPD policy, highlights the most significant policy alleged by complainant, but is not the exhaustive list of allegations or associated potential policy violations. The third section, a case outcome, can include a brief statement of dismissal, coaching, mediation, or other disciplinary disposition ultimately determined by the Chief of Police after an investigation.
Purpose of the Synopses
The synopses do not include the results of intake, coaching, or formal investigations of complaints. For these reasons, we recommend readers of the synopses to take into consideration their intended purpose, which is to provide the commissioners with basic information to decide which cases to select for creating summary data.[i] The synopses can be viewed as a tool for aiding commissioners in the action of selecting the summaries which ultimately facilitates additional transparency in the case processing, a function previously unavailable in the erstwhile civilian oversight model in Minneapolis. In other words, the case synopses and case summaries are not the same entities. As such, we recommend to the readers of the monthly case synopses to carefully consider this intentional structure when speculating about the meaning and impact of the cases in the synopses. Due to their unique structure, there will be incidents when a complaint appears to allege serious misconduct with the outcome of the complaint being coaching, minor disciplinary action, or no discipline at all. In these situations, the reason for the contrast cannot be extracted to automatically equate to a lack of police accountability; instead, the abbreviated nature of this tool is a means to capture key details for the PCOC’s executive decision-making which is the intended result. Thus, the synopses are not intended to be an instrument to fully analyze the cases for opportunities since it does not show the results of other actions taken, which in some cases demonstrate a substantiated, alternative view of an incident than that relayed in the complaint.
To summarize, the vignettes presented in the case synopses allow the PCOC members to briefly assess the complaint to decide whether to vote to have the complaint transformed into a summary data in the auditing process. It is through these cases that the commissioners can bring forward concerns of the community and potential recommendations to change MPD policy. Noteworthy, the synopses are not presented as a complete case account for reassessment of its handling or re-investigation, as these are functions granted by the Police Conduct Oversight System’s ordinance solely to the Office via Minneapolis Code § 172.30(b),(c). Rather, the purpose of the synopses is to provide basic information about a closed case to allow commissioners to decide whether to select it for additional briefing.
The Office hopes this post has made the intent, purpose and use of case synopses more understandable and transparent to all interested parties.
[i] see Police Conduct Oversight Commission Operating Rules, 23 (2014). The Commission Rules define “Summary Data,” in part, as: “[t]he data shall contain a description of the incident that is the subject of the complaint with all non-public information removed. The data shall contain the corresponding Policy and Procedure Manual violations when applicable and contain information for all relevant stages of the complaint’s lifecycle.” It should be noted that staff from the Office of Police Conduct Review must create the summary data to remove the non-public information before releasing it to the public.