– Michael K. Browne, Director-Office of Police Conduct Review
There should be little dispute that the current status of the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) is excellent. There are engaged volunteers, police command staff at nearly every meeting, quality presentations and reports, and a solid public forum for discussing police-civilian interactions. Still, behind these successes, there are some questions to suggest the PCOC should head in a different direction. It’s asked; should the PCOC audit the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR)?
The short answer: No, while the Police Conduct Oversight System’s Ordinance creates essential interconnectedness between the Office of Police Conduct Review, the Police Conduct Oversight Commission and Police Conduct Review Panels (PCRP), in the shared common core of the police conduct cases, each branch is mandated with its own duties in regard to those cases and are not called to audit each other.
To further explain this answer, I would like to revisit some key points from a presentation I gave to the PCOC in March 2014. In the presentation, I talked about how the Police Conduct Oversight System’s Ordinance, established in 2012, fundamentally changed the way civilian oversight of law enforcement operates in Minneapolis. Since I professionally researched and studied the former civilian oversight system, I began my talk with the concept that we will have to work together, honor the 2012 changes, and move towards new concepts in civilian oversight in Minneapolis. Changes were made in 2012 for a reason, and one of the hardline truths about the former system is that it had too many responsibilities concentrated in an entity that did not have enough resources to be sharp and effective – the new ordinance addressed this concern by forming the three branched Police Conduct Oversight System. This system divides said responsibilities, making police conduct oversight more operational and effective.
Moreover, the new ordinance brought along with it a new policy and vision for civilian oversight of law enforcement in Minneapolis, calling for: “(2) providing the public [with] meaningful participatory oversight of the police and their interactions with the citizenry.” Minneapolis Code §172.10 (emphasis added). This strikes a balance with the Ordinance’s other two goals: ensuring police services are “lawful and nondiscriminatory” and that complaints are investigated, with recommended outcomes referred to the chief of police. See id. Notice too, that this language provides the focus of the work on the “oversight of the police” not of the civilian staff.
I illustrated the concept by introducing the notion of the interconnectedness among the three bodies (OPCR, PCRP, and PCOC) sharing a common core, the cases processed in the system (see the above diagram). Unlike managing bodies, such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Police Conduct Oversight Commission does not sit as a governing body over the OPCR or PCRP and supervise or audit its work. As stated, each branch has its own duties and under the law, the OPCR is receptacle of the cases, reviewing, researching, analyzing and directing the flow of each of them. See Minneapolis Code §172.40. Equally, under the law, the PCRP makes decisions on “[a]ll final and approved investigative reports…” and makes recommendations on the merits of case to the chief of police. Minneapolis Code §172.40. Lastly, but no less important, under the same law, the PCOC collects, reviews and audits summary data on complaints of police officer misconduct. See Minneapolis Code §172.80 (2).
This is an interconnected system. Without the complaints filed and processed with the OPCR, there would be no cases for the PCRP to review and upon which to make recommendations. Without cases developed and closed in the system by professional staff hired by the OPCR, the PCOC would not be able to audit summary data in order to develop policy positions. Moreover, it is the professional civilian staff that conducts the core actions of the research and study of many times non-public information that allows equal opportunity for Minneapolis residents of any skill level to participate in the program. This is refined interconnectedness.
There is indeed another factor that is considered in the Police Conduct Oversight System that is not written in the Ordinance: with our common core, distinct missions, and shared goals comes the element of trust. This trust leads to cooperation and some of the most meaningful work created under the Police Conduct Oversight System. Thorough, completed investigations for the Panel could not be created without the work of the Office. The Office trusts the Panel to recommend proper dispositions, and to remand a case back to the Office for further investigation when needed. The Office trusts the Commission to develop programs of research and study, programs that will be completed by professional staff. The Commission trusts the Office to professionally complete research and studies, synopses, and case summaries for the Commission to review before making a policy decision. Thus this trust too, is essential to the system’s interconnectedness
Our work must be meaningful and distinct if we are to truly make an impact on our culture as a civilian oversight of law enforcement system. To this end, we must celebrate and fully utilize our interconnectedness while avoiding the pitfalls, misdirection and infighting that have plagued many prior entities and agencies around the country. For our part, the Office will continue to work in tandem with the Commission to have a genuine, long lasting impact covering a wide range of issues such as police investigative stops, police officer coaching, impartial policing and body worn cameras. Let’s remember the history of the civilian oversight process in Minneapolis, but embrace the new Ordinance’s call for a system with distinct branches and distinct duties, fused together by interconnectedness and trust, as we move to tackle our shared concern of police misconduct in Minneapolis and build the public’s trust in law enforcement.