St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and City Attorney Samuel Clark announced Thursday the results of an independent audit that called for substantial, potential changes to the city’s police-civilian board, which internally reviews citizen complaints against officers.
Auditors recommended that the Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission move its office and meetings outside of police headquarters, remove the two members of the police union now on the board from functioning as voting members, and establish an automatic trigger for an independent investigation each time a complaint is made against an officer for excessive force and inappropriate use of firearms.
None of the recommendations is being immediately adopted, Coleman said. For the remainder of this year, Clark will be responsible for gathering community feedback on the possible changes including at three planned meetings. Then he will report on the recommendations to Coleman in the first quarter of next year.
“It is our goal in the city of St. Paul to have a process of civilian review that is embraced by the community, trusted by the community and does right by the community, and I’m convinced that through this process … we will have a very thorough review of the civilian review process,” Coleman said.
Among the recommendations, there were also calls to expand the number of civilians on the commission and require that investigation reports compiled by the police department’s internal affairs department only include findings and not recommended action, allowing the commission to come to its own conclusions.
Many of the audit’s recommendations echoed previous advice from a 2009 report prepared by Berkshire Advisors.
The audit was conducted by the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work. It was first requested last January after several community stakeholders including the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP criticized the commission and its review process as being flawed and not truly independent.
City officials began to meet with black community leaders last year following the commission’s exoneration of three officers who had been involved in the skyway arrest and use of a stun gun on Chris Lollie, who is black.
“If anything, this is a good first step because before you can make constructive change … you really need to know what you are dealing with,” said Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul branch of the NAACP.
He was also presented the results of the audit Thursday. The key to getting changes implemented, Martin said is for the community to show up to the meetings on the recommendations and let their voices be heard.
“I feel confident with the community getting involved we can get everything we want,” Martin said.
The civilian review commission, founded in 1993, consists of five citizens and two members of the St. Paul Police Federation. It reviews all citizen complaints alleging excessive force, discrimination, poor public relations and improper procedures or conduct by police. It also reviews complaints referred by the mayor or police chief, and all instances when an officer fires a gun for a reason other than training.
The commission recommends a disposition on investigations it reviews and as well as disciplinary action, when warranted, to the police chief, who has final authority.
The process is completely separate from the criminal review process, which determines whether an officer should be subject to criminal charges in an incident.
St. Paul Police Federation President David Titus said he had not had the chance Thursday to fully review the audit results, so did not want to comment on any particular recommendations. But he said any changes in discipline procedures will have to be vetted with the police union.
“We clearly will not negotiate anything that jeopardizes the integrity of the system,” Titus said.