What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to suzanne.ziegler@startribune.com.

Angry response to planned changes to police oversight

Posted by: Matt McKinney under Politics and government, Public safety Updated: March 9, 2012 - 9:32 AM

A civilian panel that investigates complaints of police brutality took a wary first look Wednesday at a plan that would fold some of its duties into the police department.

The meeting of the Civilian Review Authority grew contentious, with angry shouts from public onlookers and a call for City Hall security staff to watch over the meeting’s end.

The changes have been pushed by Minneapolis Civil Rights Department Director Velma Korbel, who said Wednesday that they would expedite the panel’s work and make it more effective. It would mean that investigations of Minneapolis police misconduct, currently reviewed by the 11-member CRA, would instead be handled by a 14-member Police Conduct Oversight Commission, with final say over each case handled by a panel evenly split between police officers and civilians.

The new system would eventually pass cases on to a determination panel made up of two civilians and two police officers. In cases where the panel comes to a split decision, Korbel said she herself might serve as the tiebreaker.

The meeting ended with the authority board voting 4-2 to oppose Korbel’s plan.

Several members of the public also spoke in opposition to it, at one point ignoring board chairman Don Bellfield’s requests to limit their speeches to three minutes. An exasperated Bellfield left the meeting at one point and declared it adjourned before returning and allowing the speakers to continue, said board member Vernon Wetternach.

“It did get crazy,” said Wetternach. The City Hall’s security staff were eventually called in.

Long criticized as ineffective, the authority has recently come under scrutiny for delayed investigations - it’s still reviewing four allegations of police misconduct from 2009 - and even its own members criticize a process that usually ends with disagreement between the board’s findings and Police Chief Tim Dolan. The board expects Dolan to hand out discipline to officers when they determine its warranted, but he rarely does so, acting on just 17 cases out of 129 since 2009.

Board member Austen Zuege said he wonders how the new proposal would be any more successful.
“The redesign dances around the fundamental problem and that is the chief hasn’t wanted to impose discipline on cases,” said Zuege.

Samuel Reid, a staff member in the Civil Rights office, said the new plan was the product of months of meetings between the city’s Civil Rights Department staff and the Police Department. “We have the buy in,” he said.
It was the fact of those meetings taking place without the authority's knowledge that led to the night’s vote in opposition, said Wetternach.

“Are you looking for board input at all?” asked board member Justin Terrell, after listening to Korbel’s description of the plan for the first time.

Korbel said yes, but added that she’s answering to City Council and Mayoral concerns and hopes to have the new process approved by July or August.

Kenneth Brown, former chair of the Minneapolis Commission on Civil Rights, said after the meeting he had come to one conclusion.

“It’s illegal. It’s unethical. It’s immoral. It’s sneaky. It violates civil rights law as it stands. You name it, it’s wrong,” he said.

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