The mayor called it “exciting” and “an important day for the city of Minneapolis.” The civil rights director said it fulfilled a promise made four years ago. The head of the police misconduct watchdog agency called it “unparalleled access to information.”
They were talking last week about a new website that showcases data on complaints about police conduct and the consequences for officers. The “data portal” was created by the Office of Police Conduct Review, Minneapolis’ latest effort to police the police, created after the collapse of the previous watchdog agency, the Civilian Review Authority.
Visitors to the website can see a map of where complaints were made, and a general description of what they were about: discrimination, retaliation, harassment, use of excessive force, theft, failure to provide protection, criminal misconduct, inappropriate language or attitude and violation of the policy and procedure manual.
You can see the number of complaints over time, and whether those complaints were dismissed or resulted in coaching or discipline.
On a separate page, you can look up officers by name to see whether anyone has complained about them, and if they have ever been disciplined for misconduct.
Imani Jaafar, director of the Office of Police Conduct Review, said the website offers more information on police misconduct than any other city in the nation.
So kudos to Minneapolis for shedding more light on one of the most explosive issues in America.
It’s important to note a few things, though.
The information is all public, under state law. The city just never made it so easy to see before.
And what you won’t find are the most contentious records of all: the actual disciplinary records for officers who cross the line. Those are the ones with names, dates and details on what they did wrong.
You have a legal right to see those. But don’t expect the city to post a public roster of fired, suspended or reprimanded officers any time soon.
At last week’s City Hall event, Mayor Betsy Hodges, Council Member Cam Gordon and city civil rights director Velma Korbel all touted the new website. For all of the enthusiasm, the officials chose their words carefully, aware that they don’t want to 1) sound like every complaint about an officer is valid, and 2) tar the entire police department by pointing out the few bad apples.
The only uniformed officer present at Tuesday’s event, Jason Case, the head of internal affairs, stood with them but said nothing.
Korbel said officials had to “continually weigh the privacy of police officers” while offering the public more information on misconduct.
The Legislature decided years ago that public employees who are disciplined for wrongdoing will lose some of their privacy. Minnesota is one of only 12 states that make police officer disciplinary records public, the New York radio station WNYC reported last year.
When I asked Jaafar about how you couldn’t see the actual disciplinary records on the site, she indicated that I could get them by filing a data request with the police department. That could take some time, with a department records staff sagging under the weight of 181,000 data requests each year.
The city’s website shows that 30 disciplinary actions were meted out to officers since 2013, including 15 suspensions and three terminations. Want to get people’s attention? Tell us who they are, and what they did to get in trouble.
If you thought the police union would oppose that, you’re wrong. Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, sees the presentation of all of the data, particularly complaints that were dismissed, as a “lose-lose” effort by the city, because people will use it to reinforce whatever they already think about police practices.
Kroll thinks transparency is warranted when officers face final discipline, meaning they’ve exhausted their appeals. In those cases, virtually the entire file becomes public.
“If there’s a sustained complaint, and there is discipline ... then let people have it,” he said.
Contact James Eli Shiffer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-673-4116.