The Minneapolis police union has gone to the Capitol to try to limit the power of an already troubled civilian oversight board that investigates police misconduct.
Bills introduced in the House and Senate at the instigation of the Minneapolis Police Federation would prohibit the city's Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA) from issuing a "finding of fact" that misconduct took place, limiting its role to a recommendation about the "merits of a complaint" against a police officer.
The authority's outgoing chairman says the bills are an attempt to dismantle the board, something the bills' supporters deny.
By city ordinance, the authority cannot impose discipline, but the ordinance gives it power to issue findings of fact in cases of alleged police misconduct. The CRA forwards its findings to Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, who cannot conduct his own investigation or revise the findings. He must decide whether to impose discipline based on the CRA's findings.
The bills come at a time that city officials, including some in the police department, have been working behind the scenes to make changes to the authority, which sees most of its recommendations for discipline rejected. Dolan has declined to impose discipline in 112 of the 129 cases where the authority recommended it since 2009.
Asked why the police federation did not take the proposal to the City Council, John Delmonico, the group's president, said, "We have worked with the city to do two or three revamps of the Civilian Review Authority. It has fallen on deaf ears."
He said that while he supports civilian review, the authority's investigations are "inadequate and incomplete" and even if the chief does not impose discipline, the finding of fact remains on an officers' record. The findings, if not sustained by the chief, are not public, but Delmonico said they get disclosed in court cases anyway.
He said the chief, not a civilian authority, should issue findings of fact.
Don Bellfield, outgoing CRA board chairman, said the bills "would essentially dismantle the CRA." "The federation thinks, for some reason, that citizens, regular civilians, shouldn't have anything to do with the police department."
Council member Cam Gordon, who favors civilian oversight of police, criticized the bills. "Confidence and trust in the police force is something the residents really value," he said, "And an effective civilian review authority has the potential to help with that, and, in the end, will make it easier for the police to do a better job." He added "it's not appropriate for the Legislature to determine what kind of oversight we want to have for our police department."
But Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, a former police chief and one of the bill's co-authors, said, "Minneapolis shouldn't be any different from anywhere else in the state."
"Basically civilian review boards very rarely know anything about police tactics or use of force and, in my 36 years of law enforcement, I would much rather trust a police supervisor somewhere in the chain of command than I would a civilian review board. I think there is much more of a chance of bias coming in from the civilian review board than I think there is bias coming from the police profession." He said by law, police chiefs must take and investigate complaints, and if they don't issue findings, they can lose their licenses.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224