Dolan panned on cop discipline

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2011 - 8:24 PM

Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority is unhappy with lack of action by Chief Tim Dolan on misconduct cases it sustains.

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hough it faulted him for not disciplining officers, the civilian authority graded Chief Tim Dolan higher in other areas.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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A citizens' panel that hears complaints about the Minneapolis police said Monday that it had "no confidence" Chief Tim Dolan would discipline officers who engage in misconduct.

Dolan imposed discipline in seven of 53 cases in which the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority found that misconduct occurred, according to the review board's report covering the period from July 2010 through June 2011. In one case, Dolan has not yet issued a disciplinary decision.

While the board gave the chief an "unsatisfactory" mark on three aspects of his disciplinary record, it said he has shown some progress since its last performance review. It ranked him "good" or "satisfactory" in communicating disciplinary decisions, issuing them in a timely manner, and cooperating with the board in making officers available for interviews and mediation.

Dolan offered only a brief statement reacting to the report: "I have always strived to discipline fairly during my years as assistant chief and chief," he wrote. "I have no regrets regarding those decisions. One of my personal career goals is to be able to still say that, the day that I leave the service of the city of Minneapolis."

Mayor R.T. Rybak said in a statement that like all mayoral appointees, Dolan would be evaluated and that the review board's report, along with other sources, would be part of that "thorough review of the police chief's performance. This includes information about how the chief ensures Minneapolis police officers do their work with the highest professional standards and how he holds officers accountable when they do not meet those standards."

Dolan's term expires in January 2013, and he has not said whether he will seek another term. Monday's report was the latest evidence of the contentious relationship between the chief and the review board, which was set up two decades ago to provide civilian oversight of the department.

The 11 members of the review authority are appointed by the City Council and the mayor, but five seats are vacant. The board fields complaints of police misconduct and refers them for investigation to the civil rights department. A three-member panel from the board then conducts hearings where the complainant and police are asked to testify. If the board sustains an allegation, it forwards its recommendation to the chief.

In an interview Monday, Don Bellfield, the board's chair, said Dolan's failure to discipline officers "does not bode well for the Minneapolis Police Department."

"It makes it very hard for the board itself to keep hearing the complaints and to keep handing out decisions," said Bellfield, who is stepping down when his term ends Dec. 31. He said he'd only intended to serve four years and was not resigning because of Dolan's record.

In its review of Dolan's disciplinary record, the board said the police department "has not demonstrated a desire or ability to change its disciplinary practices of its own accord," and recommended that only intervention by Rybak and the council could "improve" the situation.

Previous review authority reports have also criticized Dolan for failing to discipline officers. From Oct. 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010, he issued discipline in six of 52 cases where the board concluded there was misconduct. From Jan. 1, 2008, to Oct. 31, 2009, he issued discipline in five of 37 cases where the board found misconduct. The board sustained the allegations in 9 percent of the 580 cases in which misconduct was alleged from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011.

"In some instances the MPD has acknowledged problems with officer misconduct, yet in response, has chosen to pursue only officer training instead of discipline," the report said.

"In sum," the report says, "this means that citizens of Minneapolis cannot expect the city's officers to be held to MPD policies -- throwing the legitimacy of those policies in doubt. A lack of discipline in the MPD fosters a culture of impunity, which will likely lead to further cash payouts related to police misconduct lawsuits for the foreseeable future."

In August, the Star Tribune reported payouts for police misconduct were on pace to set a record this year, although the number of payouts had dropped under Dolan's time as chief. John Delmonico, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, said his union sometimes agrees with Dolan's disciplinary actions, and sometimes doesn't.

"Police ... today in Minneapolis and across the country are held to higher standards than they ever have before," Delmonico said.

He described the review authority's process as a "dysfunctional system" that doesn't allow the chief to do his job.

He said the review board should investigate misconduct, but not issue a finding. Instead, he said, it should turn its investigative material over to the chief for him to decide on discipline.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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