Two Minneapolis activists are asking a judge to compel city officials to appoint more people to a police watchdog group that doesn't currently have enough members to operate.
The case focuses on the city's Police Conduct Oversight Commission, a group of people appointed by the mayor and City Council to conduct research on police issues and provide recommendations for policy changes. The group's past work has covered a variety of topics, such as trends in use of force, how to improve medical training as the Police Department seeks to rebuild its ranks and how to strengthen misconduct investigations to improve public confidence in them.
The group has experienced a high rate of turnover in the two years since George Floyd's murder prompted a global movement rethinking policing, losing more than half its members each year. On multiple occasions, it has gone on involuntary hiatus because it doesn't have enough members to operate.
Some past commissioners have publicly expressed frustration, saying city politics and bureaucracy hindered their ability to make changes. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has said the group "lacks the authority and tools to make any meaningful changes within MPD" and that city leaders have "often dismissed and disregarded" the group.
David Bicking and Emma Pederson, two members of local activist group Communities United Against Police Brutality who applied to serve on the commission, filed a petition in court Wednesday asking a judge to compel Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council members to fill the commission positions and pay damages.
"The city's police accountability mechanism is an abject failure. With the collapse of the PCOC, it now completely lacks any transparency," Bicking said in a statement. "This petition will restore the one way community members can be involved."
The City Attorney's Office declined to comment on the petition.
During roughly the past year, the city's Department of Civil Rights said it received 11 applications from people wanting to sit on the commission, one of which was withdrawn and one of which was recommended for appointment.
The petition comes at a time when city leaders are looking at ways to overhaul and better clarify the roles of the city's 58 boards and commissions, which have more than 700 members total and focus on a wide array of issues ranging from policing to aging and zoning.
Council President Andrea Jenkins told council members in an email earlier this month that they will prioritize work on the Police Conduct Oversight Commission and on the Police Conduct Review Panel.
The Police Conduct Review Panel typically has eight appointed civilians — though it currently has five — and police supervisors. Together, they review the findings of misconduct investigations and provide recommendations to the police chief about whether there is merit to the complaints. The Department of Human Rights found that the city had "no meaningful independent review process" for examining complaints against officers, noting that police are often involved in investigations, including on these types of panels.
The changes are expected to happen over the course of several months, during which elected officials will discuss them in public meetings.