Between police chief inaction and stonewalling by the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), civilian complaints to the MInneapolis Police Department have been a waste of time in the recent past. Now, though too close to call, the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights may have found a way to finally make the city of Minneapolis hold cops accountable for abusing authority.
A recent study recommends giving the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) the power to do something about abusive police officers. Specifically, it counters MPD’s past attempts to neutralize CRA findings. And the City Council is all over the report, both praising it and working to implement its recommendations.
Back in November 2005, while Jayne Khalifa, now Deputy City Coordinator, was executive director of the Department of Civil Rights, she commissioned the report, “A Study of the Policy and Process of the Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority.” Published this past February, it is the blueprint by which the CRA actually would become an authority in more than just name.
Khalifa commissioned the study in part because, “The police department alleged that CRA staff conducted inadequate investigations of alleged misconduct [and], prevented the Chief’s disciplining officers because of the alleged ‘poor quality’ of the evidence against them. The report proved investigations met required standards.” So, unless the MPD is going to somehow debunk the study, the department can no longer pretend it’s actually accountable.
Interim Civil Rights Department executive director Michael Browne wrote the study and says, “If the police department [continues to insist] that CRA is sustaining complaints, but investigations are not credible, are not complete, when they come and say ‘That’s the fact and I don’t believe it, I’m not doing anything about it.’ If that’s the continued perception, we will have what we’ve had for the past 16 years.”
To be sure, it is not fait accompli that the study’s findings will be swept into law anytime soon. There is, based on the MPD’s history of ignoring voluminous complaints, the likelihood the department has no intention of believing CRA sustained complaints—whether credible, complete or corroborated by the Holy Ghost.
Many City Council members, however, remain hopeful.
Ward 10’s Ralph Remington said the push for reform will not be a waste of taxpayers’ money. “It really is going to work,” he states, “because we have a dedicated new progressive wing of the City Council that is invested in an outcome that finally gives the CRA some teeth. That new progressive voice is Betsy Hodges [Ward 13], Cam Gordon [Ward 2], Elizabeth Glidden [Ward 8] and myself. We’re putting safeguards into place that will guarantee that when the CRA sustains a complaint it isn’t pushed under the rug.”
Remington adds, “It’s very important that the CRA have subpoena power. Subpoena power gives the CRA the evidentiary tools to help validate and qualify their decisions.”
After reading Browne’s report, Council Member Cam Gordon moved to establish a 14-member CRA Working Group taskforce (with six members from the City Council). Council President Barbara Johnson (Ward 4) appointed Ward 6 Council Member Robert Lilligren chair and Gordon vice chair. Gordon says of the report, “I saw it as a great opportunity to strengthen the system. It recommended … that the CRA board president sit down with people from the police department, the CRA case manager and Civil Rights Department director and City Council members. I said, ‘Here’s our chance to really make a difference.”
Gordon notes that CRA-sustained complaints were being given to the Chief of Police for a disciplinary decision, but, “We’ve found that he [William McManus] was sitting on a lot of those reports. Sometimes, when he would give decisions, it would be to give some coaching.” Since, no one outside the department is privy to said “coaching,” for all anyone knows, McManus may’ve just called a cop in said, “Hey, fella, don’t get caught doing that anymore,” patted him or her on the back and sent them back into the game.
“It was also found,” Gordon adds, “that when he got them, he would send [CRA sustained complaints] to Internal Affairs and say, ‘Re-investigate.’ That definitely played a factor.”
Don Samuels, whose Ward 5 encompasses North Minneapolis, represents the district that is home to a vast number of accusations of police brutality and racial profiling, including lawsuits. “There’s a great need for reform of the process,” Samuels said. “Especially now, when we’re saying we need more police and more effective policing, which is probably going to result in more guys going to jail … [if] we do not have equal improvement in the behavior of the police, treatment of the public and review processes that make sure those things happen, citizens are going to see increased enforcement as an increasing police state situation. We cannot afford to have that kind of relationship with the general public. People to feel we are getting better at everything, not just at the iron hand. Otherwise, it’s going to lead to a very bad social situation.”
And should IAU be involved in the CRA process? As Samuels points out, “Management within the police department belongs to the same union as the officers. That management is making decisions about police officers that are then going to make decisions about their salaries. It becomes an incestuous kind of thing.”
Lilligren holds the same position, insisting that all roads not lead to IAU. “In a lot of people’s minds and arguments,” Lilligren said, “Internal Affairs is [the decisive factor]. Chief McManus used the [IAU] to … disprove the CRA investigator’s work. That’s for the birds. Practice has been that CRA makes [a] determination, forwards that to the chief and the chief can do what he or she wants. And complaints have sat on [that] desk, some for two years, now. Or [they] were forwarded to IAU to improve the investigation. That’s why the CRA exists. Internal Affairs or the chief’s discretion shouldn’t come into it. Once a complaint is sustained by the CRA it should [stand]. That’s the point of having civilian oversight.”
Council Member Hodges agrees that McManus sitting on his duff didn’t help and that “one of the core issues was the chief’s disciplining officers if complaints had been sustained. Most of them weren’t being disciplined at all, even the cases had been sustained by CRA.”
Mayor R.T. Rybak may have taken a bite out of any CRA overhaul when he offered this comment recently: “The Chief of Police needs final authority on who is disciplined. Toward these ends, I support a CRA that makes its judgments based on MPD Policy.” If you’ve got the chief deciding what complaints are sustained, what authority does the Civilian Review Authority have?
Between 1974 and 1976, when the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission held jurisdiction over the Minneapolis Police Department, four officers were charged with use of excessive force. As a result of the investigations, two were convicted of assault. Though reports and documentation of MPD misconduct now are commonplace, it is unthinkable that such convictions would occur today. That has to change. The City Council has turn back time to when cops couldn’t break the law and be shielded by the Minneapolis Police Department.