A minority of the Minneapolis City Council decided Wednesday against requesting answers from Chief Tim Dolan on police actions during the Republican National Convention (RNC). And by killing a proposed staff directive in committee, four members of the council’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee made sure that the seven council members not on the committee won’t have a say on the issue.
Two backers of a more expansive inquiry — Gordon (Green Party) and Schiff (DFL) — presented what they termed as reasonable additions to the scope of the police department after-action report that Mayor R.T. Rybak outlined last week. (See the five proposed points of inquiry which appear as italicized additions to the mayor’s list.) But the day found the duo falling into now-familiar Don Quijote/Sancho Panza roles as they continue struggle in vain for elevated police accountability — first by casting lone votes against putting city cops under other jurisdictions’ control last fall, then by calling for an independent, blue-ribbon review of RNC law enforcement two weeks ago.
Council Members Paul Ostrow and Diane Hofstede and Council President Barbara Johnson — joined in the end by Committee Chair Don Samuels — quickly framed the proposal as an unwarranted call for investigating police work mounted by elected officials who were overstepping their authority.
Johnson said the MPD’s internal review of an event she called “unprecedented in our history” should follow the department’s “standard operating procedure.” She ridiculed Gordon’s arguments in favor of gathering additional information as a piece with “hype” about an armed-camp environment that she termed “ridiculous.” (Although her dismissive stance was undercut by Samuels’ description of an atmosphere downtown in which “anything could happen at any time.”
Samuels pronounced his own pre-judgement of the police after-action report by proposing “success report” as an appropriate title. What no one would call the police review was an “investigation” — a term that Ostrow said “presumes that things were done that were improper.”
If, in the committee debate, “investigation” became a bad enough buzzword that it set Johnson (in her words) “a-twitter,” there was another word so outre that no one would say it: “lawsuit.”
Ostrow had Dolan repeat the news that no formal complaints had yet been filed, although Dolan, in the course of his wide-ranging remarks, said that he and others had set in motion internal reviews into at least two incidents — one being the repeated macing of a young protester caught on a widely viewed news video.
But any satisfaction about the absence of complaints filed at City Hall will only last until the day (which is yet to arrive) on which papers are served there in lawsuits that protesters have promised to file over alleged police abuses during the more than 800 RNC-related arrests.
The debate followed an earlier tussle in which Schiff and Gordon bristled at a staff recommendation that Minneapolis sign a Memorandum of Understanding allowing city cops to serve under the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. during the presidential inauguration in January. Minneapolis sent 40 officers to the inauguration for the first time four years ago, MPD Inspector Rob Allen told the committee, and this year is one of 50 departments to get an invite.
But the timing for the request was unfortunate, Schiff said, coming as the city’s review of MPD actions under outside command during the RNC is just getting underway. Citing the deal’s fine print, Schiff disputed MPD Inspector Rob Allen’s assurances that federal agents wouldn’t direct Minneapolis officers, and that problems getting reimbursed for pension costs from overtime hours couldn’t arise. But the committee nixed any delay or alterations to the plan, on a 4-2 vote reprised soon after on the RNC report issue.
Here is a transcript of excerpts from the hour-long committee debate on the police report on the RNC — mostly from its emotional ending.
COUNCIL MEMBER PAUL OSTROW: … I personally don’t see a need for council action. I’m just going to be really blunt about this, because I know what the headlines are going to be. The headline is going to be: “City council calls for investigation of Minneapolis Police Department.” We don’t need an investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department when the Minneapolis Police Department itself is already saying that it’s moving forward on an after-action report. … The police department worked incredibly hard — our city worked incredibly hard — to get this right, and I think they’re just as committed to a good and solid review of this after the fact as they were to good, solid planning before that. So that’s why I’m voting ‘no’ today.
COUNCIL PRESIDENT BARBARA JOHNSON: I must support Council Member Ostrow and not vote for this. I completely agree with what you’re saying, that this is a typical action that our police department would take, to analyze an event that we’ve had of this size. The other thing — what sort of gets me in a twitter about this is some of the language that gets used. “Investigation” was used another time here, after we talked about that being a kind of buzzword here. It was just used again. The fact that the concerns come out about who is in control of the federal government, what political party is in control of the federal government. … This federal government is not run by the Republicans. It’s run by the people of this country. And that language is what sets me in a mood to say, I think the best process that we should go through is letting our professional staff evaluate what went on in this community as a result of a major convention that was unprecedented in our history … I had a call from someone — I think it was the Thursday before the convention started — and he was a radio reporter from New York City. And he said, “I hear that your city’s being turned into an armed camp.” And I said, “What? What are you talking about?” There was such hype about this. It was just ridiculous. So I would like to get down to some rationality and some professionalism about what went on here, and I think our police department has that capacity to do that, and they are doing that as part of their standard operating procedure. …
COUNCIL MEMBER CAM GORDON: I guess I’m disappointed, because I realize that without four people supporting this it won’t go forward. And we’re certainly already going to be getting some information, but we’re not going to be getting all the information that I think would be useful to me, and I would suspect to the other council members, and I would suspect to the city … I don’t think we should be afraid of information. I don’t think we should be afraid of knowledge. I don’t think we should be afraid of asking questions. In fact, I think it’s seeking knowledge and seeking truth and asking questions that’s going to get us to the best policies in the end. And so I don’t know why you’re trying to shut the door on asking questions about some of these incidents that went on. In fact, I would think you’d have more questions, you’d want to get more information … So I guess I’ll keep asking the questions and trying to seek those answers, and I’d appreciate that if council members would help me do that and try to do that in our capacity as a council but it doesn’t feel like there’s the support for it here.
COUNCIL MEMBER DIANE HOFSTEDE: I am not going to support the motion for the reasons, certainly, given. But I also want to say that I was in the downtown, and regularly am in the neighborhood, and I thought it was just an experience that almost reminded me of experiences that I had when I was in the downtown area 20 years ago. People were … on the streets, shopping and interfacing and interacting. And having a good time. And some of those people were our constituents. This is a good thing. And, yes, I did see that people were on the streets, obviously they were security individuals. But I didn’t feel threatened. And I didn’t have anybody who approached me. When I asked them how do you feel, you know what they said? You have a beautiful city. I feel safe and welcome here. I don’t think I need to say anything more.
COMMITTEE CHAIR DON SAMUELS: I’m also going to support Council Member Ostrow’s position on this. I think I was sympathetic towards the concept of a report initially with Council Member Gordon. But I think the mayor’s and the chief’s agreement as to what would be in the report initially is not significantly different enough from what is proposed here to make us have a demand or request from the council. Because it does color how this is presented, as Council Member Ostrow said, both in the press and in the public perception, that there is some kind of call to accountability here, when in fact it’s really a success report. And I would be willing to support it if it was called a success report. Because I think that’s really what it is. And I was downtown here, I was in the center watching the TV cameras, and also in the deployment area, and you could definitely have the sense that anything could happen at any time. And in spite of that we had this incredible success.
COUNCIL MEMBER GARY SCHIFF: Mr. Chair, happy to take you up on your offer. Currently this is called an after-action review. If you would like it called a success report, happy to make that motion to get your support today.
SAMUELS: Well, that was just a kind of gesture, just communicating the spirit. It was not a serious proposal.
SCHIFF: Ah, I was hoping not to call your bluff. I was hoping you were sincere. I just will express disappointment. Since this report is to be written by the police chief, I don’t know what could possibly be in the report that my colleagues could be afraid of. This is not an investigation by the city council, this is a report by the police chief. So: disappointed.