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Continued: Rybak won't extend police mediation agreement

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 23, 2008 - 11:11 PM

For nearly five years, a group of Minneapolis police officers and community members has met monthly to complete a landmark federal mediation agreement dealing with police issues such as use of force, diversity and race relations. But two months before the agreement expires, more than 40 of the 100 action items have yet to be approved or completed.

On Thursday, the community members asked Mayor R.T. Rybak to extend the agreement by one year, but he declined their request. Now the members said they won't even bother to attend the group's final meeting next month and plan to formally request that the Police Department be placed in receivership for violating the agreement.

Rybak said he made it very clear to the community members six months ago that the agreement needed to be completed by the end of the year. During that time, he said, the makeup of the community members has changed significantly, new co-chairs have been selected, and community members have missed meetings. On the other hand, he said, he made sure that the police officers in the group got the work done.

"At the last meeting, no action items were even raised for a vote," he said. "It's not about waking up now and seeing there is a challenge. It's imperative they stay at the table and get the work done."

The agreement has led to changes in the Police Department's use of force policy and improvements in officer diversity and how children are removed from their homes, Rybak said. The group, known as the Police Community Relations Council, has also been a helpful in dealing with crucial incidents.

"The city has made an enormous dedication of time, money and commitment that citizens can review for themselves by looking at the mediation documents on the city's website," he said. "I've held our Police Department's feet to the fire to get it done."

In 2003, the agreement took months to put together and came at a time when police and community relations were extremely strained. It came on the heels of several officer-involved shootings and a riot in north Minneapolis that was triggered by a shooting during a drug raid.

Instead of tackling the action items, the monthly meetings are often dominated by discussions about crucial incidents or other issues that could be handled at another time. Some have raised concerns that the council has no Somali or Southeast Asian representatives.

At their last meeting, the community members gave the city a "no confidence" vote. Zach Metoyer, co-chair of the council, wonders who will monitor the agreement for compliance after December.

"The mayor had little interest in the agreement and now he's saying he is in charge of it," said Spike Moss, a longtime activist who is on the council. "But he's not in charge of the victims of police brutality and discrimination. We have the task of defending victims."

At least two City Council members, Cam Gordon and Ralph Remington, said Rybak should consider extending the agreement for another year. Remington said the Relations Council has been a valuable resource for the city, even though the road has sometimes been rocky.

"This is the case when we talk about change," he said. "I hate to see the agreement end without resolution."

City Council President Barb Johnson attended several Relations Council meetings and said "they seemed quite unproductive to me." She doesn't view the meetings as a good use of "precious police resources."

Most community members would agree that the real work for the Relations Council is done on the streets. They are called by police to critical incidents and have played a role in solving several homicides. But in the past year, they haven't received as many calls and aren't welcomed at crime scenes, co-chair Clyde Bellecourt said.

The end of the Relations Council doesn't mean the end of improving community relations, Police Chief Tim Dolan said. He helped create the agreement and said "it's always been a very important document to us."

Rybak isn't concerned that the Police Department will have difficulty connecting with the city's various communities after the council disappears. But he also didn't have a specific plan to replace the group that many people have counted on in the past five years to help them deal with police issues.

"I don't think a single group can ever represent all the parts of the community," Rybak said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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