The St. Paul commission tasked with reviewing police misconduct cases raised concerns in early February that the police department was not providing them with all allegations of officer misconduct — including K-9 attacks on innocent people — according to a strategic planning document obtained through a public records request.
The 24-page Strategic Plan for the St. Paul Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission (PCIARC) was approved by the commission in February, but has not previously been made public. In it, commissioners raised concerns about carrying out their work.
“The [commission] needs support from the mayor’s office and the city attorney’s office, and collaboration from the police department, in order to be certain that it is reviewing all complaints within its purview, and receiving a full accounting of complaints filed with the police department,” the plan says.
The oversight panel was thrown into disarray this week. Chair Constance Tuck and Vice-Chair Rachel Sullivan-Nightengale resigned, saying in a joint letter that city leaders did not support their work.
A third commissioner, Anika Bowie, also resigned.
The commission was set up to review complaints of alleged acts of excessive force, inappropriate use of firearms, discrimination, racial profiling and poor public relations, as well as any complaints referred to it by the mayor, human rights director or police chief.
In the strategic plan, commissioners wrote that “there is a difference in interpretation” between the police department and the commission about which complaints the commission is supposed to review.
The police department believes it must turn over only the civilian complaints that its internal affairs unit has investigated, according to the commission.
As a result, the commission did not have input on “the disposition of several high-profile use-of-force incidents in which civilians were severely injured” by police dogs — cases that commissioners didn’t learn about until they were reported by local media, according to the plan.
“Such an interpretation of the [ordinance] leaves out any and all civilian complaints received by the police department but not investigated by them,” the plan says, later adding, “These competing interpretations of the [ordinance] and mandate can only be resolved through intervention by the mayor’s office and the city attorney’s office, and collaboration from the police department.”Police department spokesman Steve Linders referred a list of questions about the department’s relationship with the review commission to the city’s human rights department, which oversees the commission.
“We do recognize the important role the commission plays in our community and will continue to work to make it an asset to the community, our officers and the police department,” Linders said.
Residents and police unaware of commission
Though the commission was established in 2001, many St. Paul residents don’t know how it works — or that it exists.
In the plan, commissioners wrote that the lack of knowledge “is particularly troubling because it comes from the very communities that historically complain of negative encounters with police.”
The plan goes on to say that police officers themselves have expressed a lack of understanding or awareness about the commission.
Commissioners wrote that to increase awareness, the mayor has to fund it adequately.
According to the plan, the commission has no administrative budget beyond the salary for its one full-time staff member.
In an e-mail exchange provided by the mayor’s office, Tuck wrote to the Mayor April 12 asking if he would commit “at least $50,000 in order to be able to move forward with community outreach” and other goals outlined in the plan.
Carter responded that he could not “pre-commit to specific investments” ahead of the budget planning process.
In their resignation letter, Tuck and Sullivan-Nightengale noted the mayor’s hesitation to commit funding.
“That the mayor will not endorse even a small amount of urgently needed additional funding for the PCIARC — which, by his own admission, supports one of the ‘Three Pillars’ of his vision for a successful St. Paul — is further evidence that he is not serious about the work of the PCIARC, and has no intention of taking steps to support it,” they wrote.
In a statement Friday, Carter said “police accountability is a high priority” for his administration.
“I appreciate the voice of the PCIARC, and all others who help move forward the never-ending work of building trusting relationships between our officers and residents,” he said.