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Indeed, the lack of discipline resulting from the 439 cases has raised eyebrows.
“It certainly would raise red flags about the objectivity of the office,” said Brian Buchner, vice president of the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. “People should be asking questions and the council should be asking questions about whether it’s effective … Any time you have as significant a revamping as has been done in Minneapolis, the decisionmakers have an obligation to evaluate the impact.”
While he does not dismiss the role of discipline, Browne said the focus on coaching officers is designed to change police culture. Among the complaints referred for coaching are accusations that officers were rude, he said.
Browne said he wants officers to think about “garnering respect of the community, not because of the discipline, but what is best for society. … If you only use the hammer you aren’t using all the tools in the toolbox to effect the change.”
Slurs against a protected class, be it race, gender or sexual orientation, are not minor violations and are subject to discipline.
Samuel Walker, professor emeritus at the University Nebraska Omaha and author of two books on police accountability, said coaching “has a lot of merit to it.”
But he said it was “troubling” there had been no discipline. “I am disturbed about that and that it is a police-dominated process with citizen input.”
Both Walker and the Minnesota ACLU’s Nelson endorsed Buchner’s call for an independent review of the new office.
Ron Edwards, a longtime civil rights activist, said the data show that cases get “filtered” out before reaching Harteau. “I don’t think citizens are getting much for their dollar,” he said.
Another layer of oversight is coming. A new Police Conduct Oversight Commission consisting of seven civilians appointed by the mayor and City Council will routinely audit the way complaints are handled. “With input from the commission, the process will continue to be evaluated for effectiveness and additional changes will be proposed to the mayor and City Council when warranted,” according to the city’s website.
The Internal Affairs Unit investigates other complaints that do not go through the conduct review office. In 2012, 29 officers were sent to supervisors for coaching, 11 got reprimand letters, four were suspended and three were terminated.
In 2013, only 25 cases, aside from the police oversight unit, were investigated by Internal Affairs, leading to one reprimand letter and one suspension, Arradondo said. He attributed the smaller number of cases to coaching.
None of the cases filed since the oversight office opened has gone to the review panel. In September four more citizens will be added to the panel after a City Council hearing.
“We’re still putting in elements,” said Browne, who said cases now move more swiftly and can be tracked far better. “Next year we will have comparative data and we can look at different trends,” he said.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224