The eight St. Paul residents’ backgrounds vary widely, from engineering to teaching to racial equity work. But the newly appointed members of the board charged with reviewing complaints against police all have one thing in common: none is a police officer.
The St. Paul City Council opted last year to remove law enforcement from its Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission. The commission was created 24 years ago and makes discipline and policy recommendations to the police chief, who has the final say on such decisions.
The council voted this week to confirm the new commission members. But that vote — like the rest of the changes to the commission — was not without controversy.
The city changed the commission’s makeup and administration, among other changes, last year after a review by the University of Minnesota Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking recommended an overhaul to improve community members’ trust in the process.
The Police Department used to oversee and administer commission meetings. The city decided to transfer that role to the Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Department.
Police Senior Cmdr. Robert Thomasser raised concerns to Police Chief Todd Axtell after that transition. Thomasser listed various concerns in a June e-mail, including that unauthorized people wandered into private commission meetings and one complaint was not signed as it should be according to state law.
“We have lessons to learn,” Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann told City Council members Wednesday. City staff is working on standard operating procedures to give residents and officers confidence in the process, she said, and, “I have made a very personal commitment to the chief that he can count on the deliberations that come out of these people and this procedure.”
St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus said there should be an investigation of the issues Thomasser identified and the city should have held off on appointing commissioners until they dealt with the problems.
“This is political for them. They have rushed this thing,” Titus said of the City Council.
Council Members voted 4-1, with Dan Bostrom opposed, to confirm the eight people, whom Mayor Chris Coleman selected after about 100 people applied for the posts.
The commissioners can be appointed and trained while the city makes sure the process is “cleaned up,” Council President Russ Stark said.