– Michael K. Browne, Director – Office of Police Conduct Review
Some people have claimed the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) is less effective than its predecessor, the Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA). The blog post will address these concerns and will debunk this and other misconceptions about the Office.
Civilian Involvement in the Process is Strong
First, it has been generally asserted that civilian control of the OPCR process is weaker than the CRA because the Office is supervised jointly by the Civil Rights and Police Departments, in contrast to the former CRA which was entirely staffed by civilians. This conclusion was drawn without any accompanying analysis or supporting examples to illustrate its supposed claim, which leaves the lingering question: how has a partnership between civilian and sworn staff weakened the Police Conduct Oversight System as a whole in Minneapolis?
To begin, this assertion is similar to proverbial edicts criticizing similar analysis by focusing on one part, such as the OPCR, and not considering the impact of the entire Oversight System as a whole. As detailed in a earlier post, the Police Conduct Oversight System is composed of three branches, each charged by Ordinance to perform an interconnected function.
For the sake of this discussion, we can take a closer look at the functionality of the OPCR as a case processing mechanism. Here, in the current system, civilians have an equal voice in the resolution of complaints. While the CRA may have had sole discretion over which cases it investigated, the true outcome was a staggering backlog with the legal requirement of treating every low-level case as an administrative investigation. Moreover, final dispositions of the CRA investigations were inconsistent at best, with closed cases ranging from “insufficient evidence,” “reckoning period,” and “dispute with facts.” These outcomes are not found in OPCR closed cases because the case processing with the OPCR is more efficient, comprehensive and focused (not focused on low level complaints).
For example, a language complaint that sometimes took years to process in the CRA system now is resolved in a matter of months with the OPCR, with many cases resulting in officer coachings and recorded policy violations. How is this possible, one might ask? The difference is the current civilian oversight system has significant stakeholder buy-in with measurable results. Unlike the OPCR, the former CRA had no authority to oversee the coaching process, no authority to review misconduct investigations conducted by internal affairs professionals, and did not have standing meetings with command staff level justice partners from the police department to make improvement to the Office and build trust within the System.
Regarding investigative tools, it is a favorite claim of certain special interest groups to blindly assert the lack of subpoena power has weakened the Office; yet, there is not one specific OPCR case referenced in which securing evidence was at issue, cured only by administering a subpoena. Additionally, this claim overlooks significant needed changes to the civilian oversight system that were granted in the creation of the OPCR, such as allowing civilian investigators direct access to police evidence including police reports, dispatch logs, and squad videos, to name a few.
With the OPCR, civilians are not just inserted at all major points during the life of the case, and given equal authority over the handling of police misconduct complaints as its police counterparts, they have partnered with Internal Affairs to build a strong investigative team, exchanging knowledge and building valuable experience. In the event there are disputes between the civilian director and internal affairs commander, the matter is referred to the chief and director of civil rights. If they do not agree, the mayor enters to settle the dispute. If the final decision is left to the mayor, how is it that civilian control over cases is weakened?
A focus has also been on the number of investigators, alleging civilian control is weakened because there are two civilian investigators and seven police investigators. However, this has always been the case, both when the CRA and IAU were split, and in the OPCR process. With the former CRA, complainants could file with either office. In the instances where civilians filed with IAU, no civilian staff from the CRA was involved. With the OPCR, investigations conducted by internal affairs are reviewed by the civilian supervisor before moving forward to the Review Panel (which also has civilians). Complainants may still express a preference for a civilian investigator and receive the investigator of their choice in approximately 9/10 cases. This, too, strongly contradicts the idea that civilian control has been weakened in any way through the OPCR.
It has also been alleged that civilian control is weakened through the review panel being composed of two civilians and two police officers, with the chief of police as a so-called “tie-breaker.” Nowhere in the Police Conduct Oversight Ordinance is the chief of police designated as a so-called “tie-breaker,” in no case, has the chief of police inserted herself as a so-called “tie-breaker,” and at no time has the Police Conduct Oversight System functioned with anyone acting as a so-called “tie-breaker” to resolve a case. In short, this claim is outright misrepresentation of law, process and practice of the Review Panel activity.
It is noteworthy that there have only been unanimous decisions issued by the panel, and that in every OPCR case that has gone to the Review Panel, civilian and police have been equally represented. Even had the Panel rested on a split decision, this argument assumes they would be split equally on the sides of designation: civilian/sworn. Moreover, those advancing this claim overlook the chief of police taking action on no merit cases referred by the Review Panel, meaning that even when the panel has not recommended disciple or other further action, the Chief has still insisted on working with officers to make sure that their behavior is as professional as possible. For instance, in a recent case of officers’ interactions with an individual with autism, the Panel did not find that a policy violation had occurred but suggested that officers receive more training on how to interact with community members with autism. The Chief took action on that recommendation and did require said training.
Lastly, state law limits a civilan oversight board’s role in disciplinary action, which defers to the authority of the chief law enforcement officer. This is also how the review panel worked under the CRA with all civilians, except with the OPCR (and unlike the CRA), the chief has taken action on ALL cases the panel has determined have merit. Again, this allegation fails to show the weakening of civilian control in the OPCR system, ignores the enriched deliberations with joint civilian/sworn panels, and turns a blind eye to all the chief’s actions on merit recommendations.
Not only is weakened civilian control not demonstrated through these empty assertions, the focus on police involvement seems to be presented as a negative aspect of the OPCR process. This is in direct contrast to the national movement toward more effective civilian oversight of law enforcement, which in fact encourages police involvement in the process. President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing report states that “[p]art of the process of assessing the need and desire for new or additional civilian oversight should include input from and collaboration with police employees because the people to be overseen should be part of the process that will oversee them.” Police department involvement, resources, knowledge, experience and access in the OPCR is a strength in Minneapolis civilian oversight, not a weakness!
Statistics are Facts not Opinions
Next, statistics have been asserted in an attempt to show that the OPCR is ineffective and less functional than the CRA. However, the alleged statistics published by some, without the benefit of the inside understanding of the Office, are flawed. Statistics are facts, not opinions. Here are some of common misconceptions and alleged statistics, followed by commentary that debunks their purported significance:
- The OPCR has received 962 complaints:
- This number is correct. However, it ignores a critical fact. Approximately 217 complaints did not contain allegations against Minneapolis police officers. Hence, any descriptive statistic that uses this number to draw a conclusion is likely misleading. It also ignores the 31 duplicate complaints.
- The number of cases closed since the OPCR began operating: 826
- This number is incorrect as it incorporates CRA cases closed during this time period. 826 OPCR only cases were not closed during this time.
- The number of cases dismissed since the OPCR began operating: 392
- This number is correct and shows than only half of complaints were dismissed. However, it ignores the 217 complaints lacking allegations against Minneapolis police officers and 31 duplicates that were added to another complaint. Further, this is contrasted by the more than 700 complaints dismissed by the CRA for either no complainant follow-up or no basis from 2008-2010.
- For more information on the OPCR dismissal process, please see “No Basis” Dismissals on the blog.
- The number of cases submitted to precinct supervisors for coaching: 216
- It is unclear why this alleged statistic is used to demonstrate the OPCR’s ineffectiveness. This representation attempts to show coaching to be somehow a less effective method for resolving low-level complaints than sending the complaint to investigation, which is completely incorrect. Here is the why: the majority of complaints submitted to the OPCR are A-level or lower level allegations and could not result in formal discipline. Rather than dismissing these cases, or worse, investigating them which at times took the CRA years to complete, the cases are efficiently managed by referring them to the precinct supervisors for immediate action.
- The number of cases actually resulting in coaching: 83
- Coaching is a process where the Joint Supervisors send a potential low-level violation to a local precinct for a coaching investigation and possible corrective action. When a case is sent to coaching, it has not yet been determined that a violation occurred, or that corrective action is necessary. For more information on coaching, please see the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) Coaching Study.
- Cases may have more than one officer and as such, more coaching may have occurred. During a similar three-year period under the CRA (2008-2010), one officer was coached as a result of an investigation. Again, there is no discussion about why this high number of coached cases is a negative result; it is unquestionably a success.
- Further, this indicates that nearly 40% of complaints that were sent to coaching resulted in corrective action, something critics must overlook to support a negative perspective of the OPCR’s results.
- The number of cases where a supervisor determined there was a violation of policy: 20
- First, this ignores the fact that cases may have more than one officer. Second, these are only violations found by police supervisors. Third, this represents a doubling in policy violations over the same three-year period of the CRA where only 10 policy violations were found. Contrary to the negativity with which this statistic is shared, this is actually a positive indicator for the OPCR. Specifically, it is a sign that more accountability is occurring with the new civilian oversight process from within the Police Department, and an indication of a culture shift.
- The number of cases submitted for mediation: 33 (no statistics on outcomes or whether officers even cooperated)
- Officers are required to cooperate with mediation per MPD policy. Were they to not cooperate, they would face potential policy violations. The results of mediations are non-public. The OPCR does not receive a full report on the contents of the mediation; that is kept between the neutral third-party, the officer, and the complainant. If a party were to participate in bad faith, that information would be provided to the OPCR. There has been no indication that any party has participated in mediation in bad faith since the creation of the OPCR.
- The number of cases submitted to investigators for at least a preliminary investigation: 202
- This represents an increase in the use of preliminary investigation than that under the CRA.
- The number of cases receiving a full investigation leading to the convening of a panel: 53
- There are likely many more cases that will be submitted to the panel as there are 72 cases in investigation and 29 cases pending supervisor review investigation in preparation for the panel. Hence, this is a misleading number when it ignores currently open investigations.
- The number of allegations in those 53 cases: 163
- This number is correct.
- The number of allegations found to have merit: 36
- Considering that the panel has found 22% of allegations to have merit, it is unclear why this is indication that the system is not working. Further, it ignores the fact that there are an additional 99 cases which may result in policy violations.
- The number of allegations of excessive force found to have merit: 4
- This statistic does not take into account the 99 cases still in investigation that could lead to merit decisions. Given that the OPCR investigates almost all cases with excessive force allegations, a significant number have yet to be reviewed by the Panel and it is too early to quote this statistic as a measure of the OPCR’s success. Hence, this statistic is misleading.
- Discipline issued by Police Chief: 3 officers each received 10 hours of unpaid suspension, 1 officer received 80 hours (2 week) unpaid suspension, 1 officer received 120 hours (3 week) unpaid suspension, and 4 officers received letters of reprimand in their files
- This number is correct but it fails to include coaching and mediation, since neither are considered formal discipline. Both coaching and mediation are effective tools to ensure accountability and decrease future officer misconduct. They are also the only outcomes available when addressing an A-level violation, which make up the majority of complaints submitted to the OPCR. It also fails to account for the 99 cases still in investigation that have yet to have a determined outcome.
- This statistic also devalues the discipline that was issued, it has even been stated that this discipline is “minor.” To the contrary, the discipline that has been administered in the form of unpaid suspensions and letters of reprimand is serious, will promote departmental culture change and is a sign the OPCR process is quite effective.
- Finally, this represents an increase in the amount of discipline issued by the MPD over a comparable three-year time period with the CRA.
- Lastly, ithas been stated that less than 1% of cases filedwiththeOPCR lead to discipline.
- This statement is irresponsibly misleading as an attempt to dissuade complainants from reporting misconduct. Corrective action is taken on a significant number of cases. Of closed complaints filed that are actually against Minneapolis police officers (not complaints that lack jurisdiction or duplicate complaints), 15% lead to corrective action being taken, a staggering difference from the misrepresentation above.
For accurate reporting and statistics on the work of the OPCR, please see the Reports page of the OPCR website.
In conclusion, it is clear from the analysis of these claims and statistics that the OPCR is, in fact, effective and much more efficient than the former CRA. This does not, of course, mean that the Office is finished improving. The OPCR will continue to work toward even higher levels of effectiveness to provide Minneapolis residents the strongest civilian oversight of the Minneapolis Police Department possible. In this process, the Office welcomes feedback and suggestions and looks forward to continued work with community members as well as stakeholders.