The Minneapolis City Council voted to appoint four new members to a police watchdog commission Friday, following criticism that city leaders let the citizen oversight group go dark in a pivotal moment for the future of public safety in the city.
The Police Conduct Oversight Commission serves as Minneapolis’ primary mechanism for soliciting public input to be used in policy recommendations. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, as the city grapples with how to reform its police department, elected officials have cited the commission as critical to ensuring that the public has a strong voice in the debate.
The board dropped down to only three commissioners this fall, below the threshold of the quorum needed to conduct business. In an interview in September, Abigail Cerra, one of the remaining commissioners, said the group didn’t plan to meet until January, after the next round of appointments.
At the time, City Clerk Casey Carl said elected officials had postponed appointments to many boards and committees, including the police oversight commission, because of the pandemic and civil unrest that followed Floyd’s killing.
Carl said on Friday that city staff expedited the appointment process, and he hopes the commission can hold official meetings again starting in December.
The commissioners appointed Friday include Cynthia Jackson, a social services case worker; Jordan Robert Sparks, an IT systems manager for Optum; Lynnaia Jacobsen, an administrative assistant for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and Malyasia Abdi, a probation officer in Hennepin County.
City Council Member Andrew Johnson said he’d heard concerns from constituents that the citizen board will include members of law enforcement. He said he received one e-mail from a person who essentially said: “Look, this is the civilian side’s only opportunity around oversight.”
His colleague, Council Member Cam Gordon, said he did not see anything in the ordinance that restricts someone from serving on the committee based on their job. “I want us to be careful about making assumptions based on something like that and a label like that, that might even be temporary in somebody’s life and career,” he said.
This round of applicants produced the largest number of candidates they’ve ever seen from the city’s North Side, said Andrew Hawkins, chief of staff for the city’s Department of Civil Rights, at the meeting.
City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham expressed his excitement over the diversity of the appointments, particularly the number of Black women.
“I think that it’s really important for when we talk about police conduct, that we have a diverse representation of demographics, particularly those who are disproportionately impacted by police misconduct,” said Cunningham.
Council Member Linea Palmisano said she spoke to all of the applicants personally. “All of these applicants had a deep love for Minneapolis,” she said.
Minneapolis elected officials created the Police Conduct Oversight Commission in 2012, which many hailed as part of a new approach to police accountability that would elevate the public’s voice in creating policy. Its establishment came in the wake of the long-fraught Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority,
The new police oversight commission played an integral role in collecting public input that contributed to the rollout of Minneapolis police body cameras. Earlier this summer, the commission brought to the fore concerns that the city is unlawfully withholding public records on police discipline.
At times, the civilian board has struggled, in much the same ways as its past iterations, in getting police to listen to its recommendations and create meaningful reforms.