The St. Paul board that reviews complaints about police substantiated 19 allegations of officer misconduct last year, double the number from the year before.
The growing caseload is a sign of the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission’s rising influence, two years after a controversial overhaul that ended the Police Department’s oversight of the group.
In 2018, the review commission found 19 of 77 allegations were supported by sufficient evidence, according to the commission’s annual report. In 2017, the commission substantiated nine of 63 allegations.
“More people now trust in the process,” said St. Paul NAACP President Dianne Binns, who advocated for the creation of the commission in 1993 and previously served on it. Binns added that she wants to see more young people and people of color reporting police misconduct.
Last year was the review commission’s second as an all-civilian body, after the City Council in 2016 decided to remove police officers from the commission and transfer oversight from the Police Department to the city’s Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO). The 2018 annual report attributes the increase in the number of cases reviewed to the growing number of complaints that come through the HREEO — 57 complaints in 2018, up from 39 in 2017.
Most allegations of officer misconduct in both years were for “improper procedure,” a category that includes policy violations such as inaccurately filling out a police report.
Other categories are excessive force, discrimination, improper conduct, poor public relations and inappropriate use of firearms.
Members of the public can submit police misconduct complaints to the HREEO and the Police Department or at intake centers around the city. After an investigation by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit, the commission reviews cases and recommends disciplinary action up to termination. Chief Todd Axtell makes final discipline decisions.
Last year, commissioners did not recommend any terminations but recommended suspension in one case. Most recommendations were for oral or written reprimands or retraining.
Commission Chairwoman Constance Tuck did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Controversy at City Hall
The review commission’s transition from the Police Department to the human rights department has been a rocky one.
Less than two years after the change, HREEO Director Jessica Kingston resigned and got a $250,000 settlement from the city. In an October interview, Kingston said she’d repeatedly raised concerns that the Police Department was blocking misconduct investigations.
Kingston said all complaints should have gone to the review commission, but Police Department leaders disagreed.
In 2018, the Police Department received 38 complaints from the public and sent half to the review commission, according to department spokesman Steve Linders. The rest were dismissed because they were related to an open criminal case, were made against someone who was not a member of the St. Paul Police Department, did not allege a policy violation or were withdrawn.
In an interview last year, Mayor Melvin Carter said city officials would work to address disagreements about how the review commission should operate under the HREEO’s jurisdiction.
At the police review commission’s annual summit in St. Paul Tuesday, Carter reiterated his community-first public safety platform and said the commission’s work is part of improving public safety and trust in police in St. Paul.
Lack of trust
About 50 people attended the November review commission’s annual summit at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. A summary of their comments and questions shows a lack of trust in law enforcement and in the commission’s ability to operate independently of police.
“It looks and sounds good, but it’s not making a difference in our community,” one attendee wrote.
Demographic data on people who submitted complaints in 2018 show most were white. Of 57 complaints, 24 were made by people who identified themselves as white, six identified as Asian, five identified as black and one identified as Latino. Fourteen did not provide their race.
The 2018 annual report includes a list of “areas of focus” for the commission, including community meetings throughout the year to get residents’ input.