The first civilian members of the Minneapolis Police Conduct Review Panel, the poorly thought out substitution for the CRA, are about to be appointed. But the requirements for those positions may be as poorly conceived as the proposal was in itself.
Consider the following situation. John and Jane Doe observe a police officer pounding the head of a handcuffed individual against the sidewalk. They have seen the officer in the neighborhood before and know who he is.
“We should file a complaint against that officer,” says Jane.
John replies, “No, let’s leave well enough alone. It’s not our business.”
The next day, Jane files a complaint. For the next five years, John is eligible for the Police Conduct Review Panel; Jane is not.
This is the panel from which two civilians will sit with two officers on each complaint alleging police officer misconduct. The panels of four will then recommend to the Chief of Police whether or not the complaint should be sustained.
And yes, one of the requirements for being a civilian member of this panel is that the individual not have filed a complaint “against the Minneapolis Police Department…within the past five years.”
It has been widely documented that certain minority groups, e.g., African-Americans, face racial biases at every level of the criminal justice system. The CRA’s own reports note that blacks filed 60% of the complaints in the 18 months ending June 30, 2012.
So if members of certain communities stand up for their rights by filing complaint(s) of police misconduct, they will be excluded from serving on the Police Conduct Review Panel and hearing complaints from other citizens.
Now, one could argue that an individual who filed numerous complaints against police officers might have a bias in hearing the complaints of others. But the applications of those individuals could easily be considered on an ad hoc basis, rather than by a blanket rule that has a disproportionate impact on blacks and would exclude our Jane Doe above but include John.
I should mention that two of the three nominees for the seven civilian slots on the Police Conduct Review Panel are African-Americans. But that isn’t the point. The point is that the slots will be filled with people — African-American or not — who are less likely to file complaints of officer misconduct.
Moreover, if the rationale of this rule is to bar civilians who may have a bias from serving on these hearing panels, shouldn’t the rule be applied equally to all of the panel members, officers as well as civilians? Shouldn’t officers who have had a complaint filed against them within the past five years also be excluded from such service? And not just for sustained complaints. Surely an officer against whom a non-sustained complaint was filed would have even a greater reason to be biased.
But alas, there doesn’t seem to be a similar disqualification for police officer panelists.
And what about the Chief? If expected new Chief Harteau has had a complaint filed against her within the past five years, should that disqualify her from making the ultimate determinations whether these complaints should be sustained, and if so, what discipline should be imposed?
The equal application of this rule would cause this whole new “oversight” system to implode.
Maybe it should.
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