Two weeks after the police civilian review process in Minneapolis plunged into chaos with the sudden departure of its two top officials, city leaders are vowing to redouble efforts to get it back on track.

It is the latest episode in a history that stretches more than 30 years, in which civilian review has seen four incarnations, all of which have come under fire.

The Community Commission on Police Oversight (CCPO), which was created 15 months ago by City Council, has made little progress. Its work has been hampered by a large backlog of citizen complaints against the Police Department, waiting to be heard by commission panels. Few panels have met.

That backlog was one of the reasons Mayor Jacob Frey fired Civil Rights Director Alberder Gillespie on Feb. 16. The same day, John Jefferson, who reported to Gillespie and had direct responsibility for clearing the complaints, left his position as director of the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR). City officials declined to reveal the circumstances of his exit, but a source with direct knowledge of the matter confirmed that he resigned.

When a citizen files a complaint of misconduct against a Minneapolis police officer, the conduct review office investigates and prepares a report. The report and investigative files are then reviewed by a panel, comprised of three citizen members of the oversight commission and two police officials. The panel votes on whether to recommend to Chief Brian O'Hara that an officer be disciplined.

The Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) investigates some of the police misconduct cases that are also presented to the review panels. Four days before Gillespie and Jefferson's departures, the deputy police chief tasked with overseeing the unit was quietly stripped of his title after just six months in the role. He was transferred to a newly created position.

Minneapolis police officials said he was "needed most" in the new inspections unit, which will oversee compliance of off-duty employment by providing a "critical second layer of accountability."

But department sources attributed Cmdr. DeChristopher Granger's transfer to the slow pace at which Internal Affairs Unit cases were moving through the system and to a delay in background checks of new officers. The delay contributed to the cancellation of a training academy class last fall.

In an interview this week, City Operations Officer Margaret Anderson Kelliher said the administration is "one thousand percent committed to implementing civilian oversight" and named Carolina Amini as interim director to replace Jefferson.

Amini is a former investigator in the city's Civil Rights Department. She most recently worked for the City Attorney's Office as project manager for the implementation of the city's settlement agreement on police reforms with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

Anderson Kelliher said the city has also posted an opening for a new civil rights director with an aim to hire someone "with speed and thoughtfulness." Meanwhile, she will continue serving as the interim civil rights director after Gillespie's departure.

"Our commitment at the city is to help get the Office of Police Conduct Review stabilized and working at a really excellent level" Anderson Kelliher said, so the police oversight commission "can complete their mission which is, in my mind, to really bring justice for those folks who are making complaints against police officers.

"And that means being timely, it means being thorough, it means having quality investigations," she said, that can hold up in the arbitration process, if the oversight commission recommends discipline and O'Hara concurs.

To outsiders, the disarray in the city's civilian review system has not gone unnoticed.

"It seems like a predictable mess," said Rachel Moran, an associate law professor at the University of St. Thomas who studies civilian oversight of police.

"My sense of Minneapolis is that it has a sort of a desire to address the police misconduct issues, but a reluctance to cede power" to a civilian review process, she said. "I want to give them a chance, but I fear that it is set up for ineffectiveness."

In a memo two weeks ago, Anderson Kelliher urged Frey to fire Gillespie. She said her leadership of the Civil Rights Department was "threatening" the city's ability to comply with the state Human Rights Department settlement agreement "to make meaningful police reforms."

Anderson Kelliher accused Gillespie of failing to make data available to the city attorney's office, work with an assistant attorney assigned to her office and make sufficient progress on a backlog of 297 open complaints against police.

She also said Gillespie refused to assist pro bono attorneys helping to clear that backlog.

In its first nine months, the new oversight commission heard 17 misconduct cases and sent 14 to O'Hara for disciplinary decisions.

Asked by the Star Tribune about her dismissal, Gillespie said: "I will absolutely stand on my work and my commitment for getting justice for the people in the city of Minneapolis."

Jefferson has not responded to messages seeking comment.

'Better and consistent training' promised

Several prominent Black leaders have since questioned Gillespie's ouster and defended her integrity before City Council. Supporters criticized the decision to fire her while she was out of town on vacation, then swiftly release disciplinary records before she had a chance to view them.

Meanwhile, some police reform advocates say the police oversight commission is unworkable regardless of who is in charge.

"It goes way before Gillespie, and it goes way beyond Gillespie," said Dave Bicking, a member of Communities United Against Police Brutality. "The powers that be in this city, in general, have never wanted civilian review to actually work. They want the appearance of significant civilian review, without the reality."

Police have also been skeptical of civilian review. Retired officer Al Berryman was president of the Minneapolis Police Federation when the first oversight group, the Civilian Review Authority (CRA), was created in 1990. He opposed civilian review then and still does.

"I think it's a waste of tax dollars" and was created "to make people feel good," he said.

At the time, marches and rallies against police brutality pressured then-Mayor Don Fraser and City Council to implement civilian review. The first CRA was a seven-person panel formed to investigate police misconduct complaints and issue recommendations to the police chief.

In the meeting to to approve its creation, more than 100 dissenting officers jammed City Council chambers, wearing buttons that read, "Cops or Crack: Your Choice."

The city's police chiefs have been criticized over the years for often ignoring CRA recommendations for discipline. In 2011, the CRA said it had "no confidence" in then-Chief Tim Dolan to impose discipline.

Within a year, the council replaced the CRA with the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC), staffed by two civilians and at least seven police investigators. "We are pretty much giving up civilian review," Council Member Cam Gordon said at the time.

Discipline remained sporadic. In March 2022, oversight commission Chair Abigail Cerra resigned, saying she spent most of her time "advocating and fighting for the PCOC to exist."

A predecessor, Cynthia Jackson, said "It felt like a farce."

In December 2022, the council scrapped the oversight commission and created the 15-member Community Commission on Police Oversight. The new commission began meeting in April, but by November, only two panels had heard complaints.

"There has been a lot of turmoil in civil review boards around the country," said Sam Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha, who has written extensively on policing, including a book on civilian review. "The selection of the board, the resources they have, the process of hearing a particular case, there is no common policy. It is really chaotic.

"For the most part they have not been successful in bringing consistent standards of discipline. Many of them have been created and don't get down to the issues they intend [to take up]. It is a colossal mess."

Anderson Kelliher promised to schedule "better and consistent training" of oversight commissioners and transparency on the number and progress of cases facing the commission. A public dashboard listing case data has been behind until recently.

Next week, she said, City Council will be asked to approve a contract with the Wiley Reber law firm to help investigate complaints for the Office of Police Conduct Review. The Jones Day law firm provided pro bono investigative assistance in 2022 and early 2023.