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FREE SPEECH ZONE | Bye-bye to the Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority
The Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA) is about to be restructured again. Over the years, there have been several CRA restructurings or redesigns. This one is different.
This proposal, developed under the euphemistic bureaucratese of "business process improvement (BPI)," has been entirely top down -- no community involvement at all, not even from the current CRA board.
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Last fall, meetings between CRA Manager Lee Reid and Lt. Travis Glampe, head of MPD's Internal Affairs Unit, were begun under this BPI process. The CRA board at that time was kept completely in the dark. They didn't even know this process was underway. They only found out about it when a citizen informed them that a member of the City Council had asked a question about it at a November 2011 Public Safety, Civil Rights & Health Committee meeting.
Then, in February, at a legislative committee hearing about a bill that would limit CRA hearing panels to "recommendations" rather than "determinations" and eliminate any "findings of fact," a copy of the proposal was leaked from attorneys representing the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. The proposal would merge the CRA with Internal Affairs, have police officers sit on hearing panels as well as citizens, provide no guarantee to a complainant that his or her complaint was being investigated by a non-MPD investigator, eliminate the physical office of the CRA, and in effect do away with any serious civilian oversight of the police department.
With the Council Member's question in November and the leaked proposal in February, the cat was out of the bag on this secret process. While in all likelihood the CRA board itself was going to be totally bypassed in developing this restructuring proposal, Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel, who seemingly was the major force behind this process, had no choice but to bring the proposal to the CRA board. She did so at the board's March monthly meeting. She made a presentation, listened to some questions and comments -- mostly negative -- from board members, and left the meeting before hearing from any of the two dozen or so community people who had come to express their outrage at the process and the substance of this proposal. She said she would listen to the tape.
The minutes of that meeting report that those Ms. Korbel identified as "stakeholders" included the CRA board and the community. But there clearly had been no intention to consult with the board, and there has been absolutely no outreach to the community on this proposal. Past CRA redesigns have involved community people from the outset -- providing input, sitting on committees, and evaluating proposals as they were developed. Not this time. It has been all top-down, a curious process for an agency that was created solely because of pressure from the bottom up.
After the public comment portion of that March CRA board meeting, the board voted 4-1 with one abstention to reject the BPI initiative that Ms. Korbel had presented.
At the April monthly meeting of the CRA board, Ms. Korbel brought Police Chief Tim Dolan and City Attorney Susan Segal with her for further discussion. Ms. Segal reiterated an argument that Director Korbel had made for the merger: This way one wouldn't have to choose where to bring a complaint between the CRA and the IAU, and the outcome would not differ depending on the complainant's choice. Such an argument, of course, is absurd. It totally misses the point why the CRA was created in the first place. It was created because people didn't trust the police department to investigate itself. It was created precisely TO GIVE A CHOICE, a choice that now will be taken away.
Several new CRA board members had been appointed in March, and the newly constituted board quickly formed an ad hoc committee to come up with an alternative proposal to this dismantling of the CRA. The board passed the alternative, submitted it to the drafters of the dismantling proposal and to the City Council, and heard nothing back.
Then, at the City Council meeting on July 20, Public Safety Committee Chair Don Samuels introduced the first reading of an ordinance amendment that will restructure the CRA. What is in the proposal is unknown. My guess is that it is substantially Director Korbel's initial proposal of merging the CRA and Internal Affairs.
What is known is that there has been no public input at all, that the CRA board was not given the courtesy of a response to its much different alternative restructuring, and that the CRA is likely on the rocks.
Whatever the proposal now includes, it will be presented at the Public Safety Committee meeting this coming Wednesday, July 25, 1:30 p.m., Room 317 City Hall, to be followed by discussion from committee members. There likely will be a public hearing before that committee, same time, same place, two weeks later on August 8.
The process has been atrocious; the substance is even worse. But without significant expression of community outrage, we likely will be saying good-bye to the whole concept of civilian oversight of police in our city.