Mpls City Council passes Civilian Review Authority overhaul 8-5

Councilmembers Don Samuels (left) and Cam Gordon (right) heatedly clashed on the proposal.
After a heated debate, the Minneapolis City Council voted 8-5 to approve an amended overhaul of the Civilian Review Authority, a controversial police oversight board started more than 20 years ago.

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Today's vote will eliminate the current model -- a board of appointed citizens who review police misconduct complaints independent of police -- and create an entirely new, first-of-its-kind process that combines police and citizens. In the hybrid plan, seven police and two civilian investigators will review misconduct complaints, then send their findings to a panel of two civilians and two officers for evaluation. The panel's recommendation will go to the police chief, who will decide whether or not discipline is warranted.

"We have a real chance to show the rest of the country that we're on the cutting edge," said Councilmember Don Samuels, who proposed the overhaul.

But not everyone was so optimistic. Despite a last-minute amendment that will allow complainants to request civilian investigators, City Councilman Cam Gordon remained the harshest critic of the new plan.

"I think, if this passes, pretty much we're sending the message that we're giving up on civilian oversight of the police," said Gordon before the vote.

Gordon proposed three amendments to the proposal at today's meeting. The first would increase the number of people on the panel from four to five, to be filled by three civilians and two officers, giving civilians the majority. The motion narrowly failed by a 6-7 vote.

The second amendment, which passed unanimously, added language into the ordinance placing a so-called "firewall" around details of the investigations, meaning only the staff assigned to the review panel and oversight commission could see it, "unless authorized by law."

The third amendment garnered the most debate among councilmembers. In cases that don't involve criminal allegations, Gordon proposed that complainants be able to request a civilian investigator.

Samuels said he feared a majority of complainants would opt for the civilian route. Since the civilian side has fewer investigators than police, the system would be disproportionately overburdened, in turn replicating many of the problems with the current board.

"If you're going to overburden the staff, it's an unfunded mandate, and unless Councilmember Gordon can come up with the dollars fund two new people, this is going to be an exercise in frustration," said Samuels.

Samuels continued: "This is a dream. It's an ideal that is not planned for in the current budget or the current structure. It can't work. It just can't work."

Gordon's amendment passed 8-5 with one tweak: If a complainant asks for a civilian, the request "may" be granted, meaning it also may not.

Samuels argued this could give complainants false hope, but several councilmembers noted it would at the least measure how many complainants would prefer the civilian option.

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Brad Conley
Brad Conley

You will need to go to item 7 on the PSRCH agenda to find the links to the proposed changes, research, and public testimony. It's worth noting that the proposal not only avoids addressing any changes in the time needed to process a complaint (currently 6m-3y) but it reveals the process by which complaints are reviewed to greatly increase in complexity, which would entail an even greater potential for time required to review. The incredible majority of the review board will fall not into the hands of outside bodies but into the department of whom its own members are receiving complaint. This is unbalanced and illogical. This past year I proposed a recall amendment to the city charter. The Charter Commission refused a very valid argument for citizen-based removal of a council member by saying that the charter currently provides the process for removal of a CM by the council itself - and really only if that CM was to be found guilty of misdemeanor. Not exactly a hope-inspiring process, and certainly not one that offers any power to the citizenry. The citizens are being pulled out of City Hall. Regardless of what the Mpls PR machine is saying about how great everything is - from the top down - they are repeatedly finding ways to get the citizens to stay the hell out of City Hall: disengaging the Neighborhood Revitalization Program after 20 great years; removing neighborhood input into any type of development (planning and zoning); the stadium debacle; and the CRA/CPBOB are just some of the ways in the past year that we have less influence in our own lives because of our current city leadership.

Melissa Dreier
Melissa Dreier

Hm. A civilian review authority that's majority officers. Defeats the purpose.

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