COMMUNITY VOICES | Civilian review and tortured definitions

Remember the torture memos? Those were the Department of Justice documents that were issued shortly after 9/11 — and later withdrawn — that defined torture so narrowly that it was virtually defined out of existence. They said that to constitute torture, the pain had to be “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”

Well, hold on to your dictionaries. Minneapolis’s new Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) has done some similar major surgery on the word “transparency.” Last Wednesday Assistant Director of Civil Rights Michael Browne, who, along with Cmdr. Medaria Arradondo of the police department’s Internal Affairs Unit, heads up the OPCR, unveiled his new definition to the Minneapolis City Council’s Public Safety Committee, when he delivered the OPCR First Year Report.

Mr. Browne identified what he called three hallmarks of the new civilian oversight process: balance, transparency and engagement. Transparency now is “identifying ways in which civilians have … more opportunity to be engaged,” or ways “to integrate civilians into the new system,” or “ways in allowing civilian input in the oversight [process].” If that’s “transparency,” I wonder what the re-definition of “engagement” will be.
No longer is transparency defined in terms of what is disclosed to the public. Now transparency is defined by what’s seen and heard by only a few select civilians — the two boards of the OPCR plus Mr. Browne himself — not by the general public. Apparently, you and I are supposed to rely on representative transparency, and that through representatives we had no part in selecting.
The Civilian Review Authority, the predecessor agency to the OPCR, released data on a monthly basis, with additional quarterly reports to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee required by the ordinance. The new OPCR released no data for 10 1/2 months, has not indicated if monthly releases or quarterly reports will ever resume, and tells us we are the beneficiaries of increased transparency. These practices were characterized by Mr. Browne as a “much larger” transparency concept, as opposed to the “very limited use of the word transparency” that we’re all familiar with.
And no Council member saw fit to ask if this really was an increase in transparency, or if it is, whether we will have to wait another 10 1/2 months before we can again partake in this benevolence.
And the data that was released? Well, even that was limited at best. For example, one of the new procedures the OPCR is using is to refer low-level violations directly to supervisors in the precincts. But the only data provided on what happened as a result of those referrals was how long it took to complete those cases. The report does seem to show that “coaching” has occurred in 15 out of 70 of those cases. What kinds of complaints were these? When the documentation on them was returned to the OPCR, were the OPCR’s joint supervisors satisfied with the outcomes? What did the complainants, the officers, or the supervisors think about this streamlined process? These questions were all left unanswered.
But who am I to question? I can’t even find my dictionary.