Complaints about Minneapolis police misconduct to a civilian review board have surpassed last year’s total with more than three months left in 2018, with no singular explanation as to why.
According to its latest data, the Office of Police Conduct Review has received 334 citizen complaints so far this year after receiving 236 in all of 2017. Dozens more are dismissed each year because they involve officers from other departments or complainants who won’t cooperate with investigators.
The 141 civilian complaints filed in the months of April, May and June were the most in a quarter since the OPCR took over investigating most citizen complaints from the department’s internal affairs unit.
OPCR director Imani Jaafar sees no single explanation for the rise in complaints, which range from foul language to excessive force.
“It’s not the Super Bowl, because we kept a close eye on that, being the first major event of OPCR’s existence,” said Jaafar, adding that her office will present its report for 2017 to council members later this month. “We haven’t been able to pinpoint a certain event.”
The 2017 report will include the final tally of substantiated complaints, Jaafar said. The 2018 number has not yet been compiled.
She also pointed to changes made in recent years to the complaint-filing process to make it easier for citizens to report misconduct, which followed a report from an oversight group that found significant problems with how such complaints were handled.
“I think also the Police Department has made some moves in transparency, too, and gone out to let the community know that filing a complaint will be taken seriously,” Jaafar added.
Police officials said Monday that despite two controversies in recent months — undercover marijuana stings that critics said unfairly targeted African-Americans downtown and were subsequently discontinued, and allegations that officers were urging paramedics to sedate agitated people using the powerful tranquilizer ketamine — the department has made strides in repairing community relationships damaged by past encounters.
“The MPD takes all complaints seriously and is committed to the robust process that is put in place to address them,” a department statement said. “While it would be premature to comment on data we have not received, we will definitely take a hard look at the numbers when they’re provided.”
The OPCR was formed after the collapse of the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority (CRA), which was dismantled amid questions about its effectiveness.
After a complaint is vetted, it is forwarded to a four-person panel drawn from a pool of civilians and police lieutenants that meets twice a month to review cases for policy violations. They then make a recommendation to the police chief, who has final say on any discipline.
Previously, most allegations of excessive force, harassment and abusive language against city police officers were handled internally.
To avoid case backlogs that plagued its predecessor, the OPCR sends many minor policy violations to the precincts, where the offending officers are coached by their supervisors about what they did wrong.
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, said he was surprised by the increase but wondered what percentage of complaints against officers are upheld.
“What’d be interesting on the other side of that is that if the bodycams are reviewed and the claims end up being false, if they’re going to charge the citizen with a crime, as they should be,” he said.
As he sees it, an increase in complaints is a byproduct of more frequent police-community interactions, Kroll said, arguing that the more proactive an officer is, the more likely he or she is to draw someone’s ire.
Raj Sethuraju, a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State University, said the current climate of tension over police shootings has encouraged members of traditionally disenfranchised groups to speak up about abuse at the hands of police.
“When you have Black Lives Matter and movements like that, [people] are no longer simply going to stop and wait for somebody else to present the narrative,” he said. “These communities have made it more possible for people to understand these data and push back, and they’ve sort of empowered the community.”
Chuck Turchick, a longtime department observer and regular presence at public hearings, said since the CRA’s collapse, the complaint process has grown more opaque.
“Since the OPCR was founded they have never done even an informal survey of the people using the system or the officers being charged with misconduct,” he said. “They don’t ever get feedback ... to see if the system is working.”