St. Paul officials plan to make numerous changes to the commission that reviews claims of police misconduct in an effort to increase the group’s credibility.
“We need to have a process that has the confidence of both our community members and our police officers,” Mayor Chris Coleman said at a news conference Tuesday, where he and other city leaders announced the proposed changes to the Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission.
But leaders of the St. Paul Police Federation and local NAACP said they have lingering doubts about the fairness of the review process.
If approved, the changes would add members to the commission, raising the number of civilians from five to seven. Two representatives from the police union would remain on the commission, but they would have to hold a commander’s rank, according to the updated ordinance that City Council members will consider for the first time Wednesday.
Community members raised concerns about the commission after it exonerated officers who arrested and used a Taser on Chris Lollie in a skyway lounge in 2014. Critics said the review commission “was just an extension of the police department and that there was a credibility gap in some of the outcomes,” City Attorney Sammy Clark said.
Those doubts prompted the city to ask the University of Minnesota’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking to conduct an audit of the review commission. The audit, published in 2015, listed 18 recommended changes. The city is acting on many of them.
St. Paul NAACP President Jeffry Martin said he applauds the city for undergoing the audit, but wants an explanation for why officials are not following the recommendation to remove police union representatives as voting members of the commission.
“I think what [residents] said loud and clear is they did not want the police officers there and they definitely did not want them voting,” Martin said.
After the city held a series of public meetings on changes to the commission, Clark said he found that removing police union representatives as voting members was not that high of a priority for community members. He said people understood the city has to create a system both residents and police union members can accept.
“We cannot swing the process too far in one direction,” Clark said.
St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus said city officials did not achieve that balance with the proposed changes. The current commission works well, and when city officials decided to reform it, they did not include rank-and-file police officers in the process, he said.
Titus said the way the city came up with the changes “is absolutely insulting and ridiculous.”
The proposed changes to the Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission generally align with audit recommendations, including adding civilian members and expanding commissioners’ training. Additional training topics could include racial equity, implicit bias, gender identity and mental health challenges.
One key audit recommendation the city plans to act on would stop the practice of police internal investigators recommending outcomes to the commission. Instead, the review board would consider complaints and come up with an independent decision on a misconduct allegation. The police chief has the final say on any disciplinary action.
The review commission would also be able to suggest policy changes for the police department to consider, according to the updated city ordinance.
The commission’s meetings would remain closed to the public, but at least once a year the commission would hold a public summit to review and evaluate the group’s effectiveness. And, as recommended in the audit, people would get to testify to the commission on a complaint they filed.
The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes Nov. 16 and could take the final vote on them by the end of the month, Council President Russ Stark said.
If the changes are made, Martin said the community needs to follow up on them and file complaints that have merit.
“Let’s utilize this system for all it’s worth and see if it works,” he said.