The Truth About Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement in Minneapolis

Civilian oversight of law enforcement has existed in Minneapolis since 1990.  The most recent civilian oversight model, the Office of Police Conduct Review, was adopted by the Minneapolis City Council in 2012.  I have lead the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, which includes the Office of Police Conduct Review, since 2010.

Over the past several days I have seen a significant amount of misinformation about the Office of Police Conduct Review – some new, some repeating the same narrative that has been there.  There seems to be quite a bit of discussion about what a great model of civilian oversight the former Civilian Review Authority (CRA) was and how the current model is patently ineffective.  On paper, the CRA may have been a good model.  In practice it was not.  I want to use this communication to thank all of the people who volunteered or worked in the previous CRA.  But I want to correct the misconceptions and share the work that is actually happening in the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) today.

In the past 2 years of the OPCR’s existence, there has been more corrective action taken on Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) police officer misconduct than in the final 10 years of the CRA. You can see OPCR’s results here:

http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/civilrights/policereview/archive/index.htm

During the CRA’s time, a complete lack of communication between it and the MPD provided MPD the mechanism to ignore any and all recommendations from the CRA.  During this time, MPD was also able to divert complaints from the CRA by referring them to Internal Affairs (IA) without the CRA’s knowledge.  Thus serious cases were never seen by the CRA. In the final 3 years of the CRA, not a single case received discipline despite efforts from the community board and civilian investigators.  In contrast, 4 terminations have resulted out of OPCR – entirely due to good leadership, effective relationships, skilled staff, good policy and an efficient process – in less than 2 years.

OPCR handles all complaints filed against MPD except for Human Resources respect-in-the-workplace claims.  Because MPD is compelled to work with OPCR, MPD cannot divert complaints or ignore the input of civilians.  Other ways civilians are involved in the case handling process: (1) all cases are screened by a civilian investigator and complainants may request to have a civilian investigate their cases.  (2) a civilian director makes decisions on the case route jointly with the commander of IA;  and, (3) a review panel made of council/mayor appointed civilians and police lieutenants recommend merit-no merit at the conclusion of each investigation.  Additionally, OPCR has the ability to compel testimony from officers during case investigations.  The outcome of compelled testimony in an investigation can lead to an officer’s discipline, up to and including discharge.  The ability to compel testimony is very similar to subpoena power.  Thusly, OPCR does not rely on subpoena power because the office has direct data access to evidence such as police reports and body camera footage.

Because of the hybrid nature of OPCR, civilian legal analysts have full data access to MPD data bases and are able to complete comprehensive research and study projects for the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) that contain impactful conclusions and recommendations.  On the other hand, the CRA had no direct data access to data and often struggled to even get basic information for investigations for several months after receiving a complaint.  OPCR’s full data access allows investigations to be completed in a timely manner and allows the PCOC to create publicly available reports that address pressing concerns from the community, such as mental health, suspicious stops, and domestic abuse.  The PCOC relies on public input and also reviews completed discipline cases.  You can find their work here:

http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/civilrights/conductcomm/index.htm

OPCR and PCOC have access to date to do their work and a significant amount of their work products are available to the public.  Both the OPCR and the PCOC have unprecedented information available to the public on each of their websites.  Most cities across the nation do not have this level of public access to officer discipline records.  OPCR is giving civilians meaningful control over MPD disciplinary procedures.  Minnesota state law only allows chiefs of police the authority to implement discipline.  However, the OPCR mechanism allows civilians to have significant control over police misconduct investigations and the ability to have a strong voice in case outcomes and shaping the MPD policy and procedure.  I highly encourage you to look at the work and even search individual officer’s discipline records to see their results

http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/civilrights/policereview/cra_links-contacts.

There have been life-changing, police-involved events that show how important civilian participation is in policing.  OPCR is a strong entity that has shown results and my hope is that the City enterprise can work together to strengthen OPCR’s model without disrupting the high quality work that is already underway.  I am committed to doing what I can as the Director of Civil Rights to ensure the citizens of Minneapolis continue to have a meaningful and powerful voice in how policing impacts our community.

If you would like to find out more about the OPCR process, you can see the entire complaint process manual here:

http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@civilrights/documents/webcontent/wcmsp-195180.pdf

For more information on civilian oversight in Minneapolis please see:

http://www.minneapolismn.gov/civilrights/policereview/WCMS1P-136023

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2 Responses to The Truth About Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement in Minneapolis

  1. There clearly were problems with the CRA: there was a very large backlog of cases and the then Chief of Police, Tim Dolan, would not issue discipline in CRA-sustained cases, as the writer points out. On many of those cases, the Chief, who was required to give his reasons in writing for not issuing discipline in CRA-sustained cases, wrote that his disciplinary decision was “based on his disagreement with the facts as determined by the CRA Board.” Interestingly, the ordinance at that time required the Chief to base his disciplinary decisions on “the facts as determined by the CRA Board.” That portion of the ordinance also said the Chief could be disciplined for violating its provisions. That led me to file a complaint against the Chief, noting his many violations of the ordinance. The CRA Executive Director, Lee Reid, accepted my complaint, but Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel, the author of the above piece, “advised” him to dismiss the complaint and refer me to the Mayor’s office. She did this, although at the time, the ordinance specifically prohibited her from getting involved in the handling of specific complaints. So it may well have been that part of the reason the CRA couldn’t get the Chief to issue discipline in cases sustained by the CRA was because City officials, including the Civil Rights Director, protected the Chief against the public insistence by the Board and by members of the public who said the Chief was a serial violator of the ordinance.

  2. Don’t try to leave a comment here; it’s almost fruitless. I left a comment nine days ago, and it has yet to appear.

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