Minneapolis police review up for debate

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 17, 2012 - 12:04 AM

Meeting focuses on plan to scrap Minneapolis' all-civilian panel.

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One of the officials behind the plan, Velma Korbel of the city’s Civil Rights Department, spoke at the meeting.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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A controversial plan to overhaul civilian oversight of police misconduct in Minneapolis is wending its way through the political process via community meetings where officials are asking for comment.

At the second of three such meetings, several city officials listened Thursday night in north Minneapolis to angry complaints from a small group of residents about the proposal.

Crafted with the support of key figures in Mayor R.T. Rybak's administration, the proposed changes would transform what now is an all-civilian agency, the Civilian Review Authority (CRA), into a hybrid that would use police and civilian investigators to probe misconduct charges.

Under the proposal, a panel made up of both police representatives and citizens would make recommendations to the police chief about the cases they review. The police chief then would decide whether discipline is warranted against officers.

Only nine residents showed up at Thursday's meeting, several of them from activist groups that have criticized police behavior in the past. None of those nine backed the proposal, but it was not clear whether the strong views they expressed reflect broader community sentiment.

"I wish we had heard from less familiar voices," Don Samuels, chairman of the Minneapolis City Council's public safety committee, told the meeting.

Another community meeting on the subject will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Minneapolis City Hall, Room 319.

Most City Council members have not said publicly where they stand on the proposal. But Samuels said in an interview this week that the "purity" of an all-civilian panel has not been particularly helpful in recent years and that including police in the investigations and the recommendations could be a way for each side to see the other's point of view.

Currently, he said, members of the CRA issue an opinion on a misconduct allegation, which may be cathartic for them. But in the end, he said, they feel "unaccepted or unappreciated or misunderstood" when the opinion is rejected.

But the overhaul proposal gets negative reviews from activists who think that putting police officers in decisionmaking roles on the panel will discourage citizens from airing their complaints about police conduct.

"There shouldn't be cops there [on the panel]," Dori Ullman of Communities United Against Police Brutality said at the meeting. "People won't complain to cops, and cops should not be in on the decision."

Velma Korbel, the city's civil rights director, who developed the overhaul proposal with the support of outgoing Police Chief Tim Dolan, said those filing complaints and police officers have complained that the current system takes too long to reach a decision. Supporters of the reorganization say it would streamline decisionmaking.

In December, the CRA announced that it had no confidence in Dolan because he rarely disciplined officers, despite its recommendations to do so. Rybak has defended Dolan, saying he has fired more officers than any previous police chief. But the city has also been hit with a string of lawsuits alleging police brutality, resulting in payouts totaling millions of dollars.

The CRA was created in 1991 in hopes of building greater citizen confidence in the Police Department. They could complain to the CRA's civilian investigators or take those complaints to the department's internal affairs unit, which is staffed by officers.

Current CRA board members have denounced the proposed overhaul.

"What's wrong with the current proposal is that it eliminates civilian review," said new CRA board member Al Giraud, who drafted an alternative plan that would have investigations conducted exclusively by civilians, followed by a vote by a panel of civilians on whether to recommend discipline. Under Giraud's proposal, a police officer would sit on the panel to offer opinions but would not vote.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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