Split Minneapolis City Council revamps police watchdog

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 22, 2012 - 12:05 AM

Minneapolis citizens, police will collaborate in oversight.

A deeply divided Minneapolis City Council voted Friday to replace a civilian agency that investigates police misconduct with a new city office made up of police and civilians.

After lengthy, sometimes passionate debate, the council voted 8-5 for a structure supporters said would improve dialogue between police and the public but critics said would gut civilian oversight.

The council action, which combines police and civilians in a single office, scuttles the city's Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA). Last December, the CRA accused Police Chief Timothy Dolan of ignoring most of its recommendations to discipline officers. Dolan said he frequently disagreed with the CRA's civilian investigators.

Council Member Don Samuels, who led the fight for the hybrid police-civilian structure, said the new body will create a "real dialogue" between police and civilians. He said the old CRA's decisions might have been cathartic for its board but failed to deter misconduct.

"I don't care about catharsis," he said Friday. "I care about getting something done and changing the (police) culture."

Council Member Cam Gordon led efforts at the meeting to modify the proposal, and he was partly successful. But in the end he urged fellow council members to reject the measure. "If this passes," he told them, "we are pretty much giving up on civilian review."

Police misconduct continues to be a controversial issue in Minneapolis. The city has paid millions in recent years in connection with lawsuits alleging police brutality.

Under the measure passed Friday, described by Samuels as a "collaboration" between police and the city's Civil Rights Department, the new office of police conduct review will be staffed by two civilians and at least seven police investigators.

A hearing panel of two civilians and two police officers will weigh the evidence gathered by investigators and recommend whether to discipline officers. The decision to discipline will continue to rest with the police chief.

Advocate pleased

Velma Korbel, director of the Civil Rights Department, was elated that the new structure passed the council. "It was a very emotional and tough vote on both sides," said Korbel, who was one of the architects of the plan, along with police officers representing Dolan and the city attorney's office.

Korbel said the new structure will be in place and operating by the beginning of 2013, perhaps sooner.

The proposal to merge police and civilian review operations was aired over the summer at three community meetings, attended mostly by activists who uniformly opposed it.

It also drew criticism from the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, which wrote to Minneapolis officials recommending changes.

Citing that organization's concerns and other criticisms, Gordon introduced three amendments Friday, with mixed success.

One, defeated 7-6, would have added a civilian to the hearing panels and given civilians a 3-2 voting edge over police.

A second amendment that would have permitted complainants to choose whether they wanted a civilian or police investigator, was itself amended and passed 9-4. The alteration, introduced by Council Member Gary Schiff, lets complainants request either a civilian or police investigator but gives the office the authority to decide which.

Samuels urged the council to reject Schiff's amendment because he said it would lead complainants to expect a civilian investigator when they may not get one.

New commission created

Council Member Betsy Hodges said that by keeping track of requests, the council will learn how many complainants would prefer a civilian investigator.

Gordon's final amendment will, in effect, bar police involved in an investigation from sharing details with others in the Police Department. It passed unanimously.

The action also creates a Police Conduct Oversight Commission to evaluate the process and policies.

Voting to create the new office of police conduct review were Samuels, Kevin Reich, Diane Hofstede, Barb Johnson, Lisa Goodman, Meg Tuthill, John Quincy and Sandy Colvin Roy. Voting against it were Gordon, Schiff, Hodges, Robert Lilligren and Elizabeth Glidden.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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