Community interest in St. Paul’s police review commission has not waned since city leaders voted a year ago to overhaul the board — a decision many people said would create a more just system and others called unfair to police.
The commission, which considers complaints about officers and makes disciplinary recommendations to the police chief, was given more responsibility and restructured. Two Police Federation representatives were removed. It took most of the year to make the changes, and the new all-civilian board just started reviewing cases in October.
Over the summer, police officials raised procedural concerns about the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission’s operations. But city staff and commissioners said Tuesday they’re gaining on their goal of increasing public confidence in how police misconduct is handled.
“This will be one step toward having a more transparent, better process,” Commissioner Kaohly Her said at an annual summit Tuesday night, where residents asked questions about the new system and suggested changes.
Former Commissioner Dianne Binns, who spoke at the event, said she has been attending the summits for years and Tuesday’s turnout of about 80 people was the largest she had ever seen.
The overhaul of the commission was one of the most debated issues at City Hall in 2016, and stemmed from a University of Minnesota audit that recommended changes.
The city’s Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity now coordinates the commission, instead of the police department. Complainants can testify to the commission, recommendations from police internal affairs staff no longer influence decisions, and the commission is able to recommend policy changes.
The most high-profile change was the removal of police from the board. Formerly a seven-person commission with two federation members, the board is now made up of nine civilians.
When Binns was on the commission, she said she often ended up fighting with the two federation members.
“I kept saying they’ve got to go,” she said, and many community members pushed the city to remove them. “I believe that truly you have a civilian review process now that the community can have trust in, can have faith in.”
Federation President David Titus could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The city received 56 reported allegations in 2016 and 18 were sustained, according to an annual report presented at the meeting.
Kristen Clark, one of the new commissioners, said more outreach is needed to let people know about the complaint process.
Another new commissioner, Daria Caldwell, sat at a table Tuesday with a group of girls, ages 12 to 14. Alicia Lucio, a youth worker at Neighborhood House, brought them to the event. The girls became interested in policing after St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot Philando Castile, Lucio said, and policing “keeps coming back as a concern.”
Caldwell told the girls that if they encounter a problem with police behavior, nothing is going to change unless they bring complaints to the city.