City plans changes to police oversight

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Minneapolis City Council members decided to go forward with efforts to scrap the Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority in a public hearing at city hall Wednesday.

The authority, a group of 11 Minneapolis residents who investigate police disciplinary issues, has had its power heavily restricted in recent years. In March, a Minnesota Senate bill passed that limited civilian boards’ abilities to make a “finding of fact” by which officials would have to abide.

Ward 5 Councilman Don Samuels authored a new proposal that would set up a panel of both citizens and police officers to review misconduct cases. The proposal was voted forward to the full Council for approval.

The new proposal was not without opposition.

Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents the University area, opposed it, raising his suspicions that the proposal as presented is not ready to be put before the full City Council.

A group of citizens also came to the hearing to voice their concern for the changes.

Ken Brown, former chair of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission, expressed his disappointment with the council for not taking citizen input into account.

“The biggest problem is there was no prior citizen input to the change,” Brown said. “No citizen was asked for their advice or input, no citizen sat in at meetings about it, no citizen had anything to do about it.”

The fact that the Minneapolis Police Department would be involved in the process of disciplining fellow police officers also cast suspicion on the new proposal among those opposed to it, Brown said.

“No institution that I’ve seen in my lifetime has been able to properly police itself,” he said. “None.”

Rather than a complete overhaul, Brown said that more support for the authority in the form of staffing should have been considered.

Some council members in the hearing expressed their difficulty in coming to a decision on whether to push the changes forward.

Ward 10 Councilwoman Meg Tuthill said this would be “one of the toughest decisions that we’ll all have to make while we’re in office,” while Councilwoman Betsy Hodges, who represents the 13th ward, said that she lost sleep over the issue the night before. Hodges abstained from casting a vote in the hearing and Tuthill left before the Council voted.

Samuels said one of the biggest advantages of the new proposal is that it would reduce the barrier between citizens and police officers in disciplinary investigations.

“We’re removing the hard line between the police and the community,” he said.

Under the new proposal, he said cases of minor infractions would be assigned to mediation right away.

In response to citizens’ comments that the council was “barking up the wrong tree” by going after the authority, Samuels said that the ultimate problem was that justice was not being served by the group, so a change was needed.