Police reformers on the defensive as council debates CRA subpoena power

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Less than two weeks after negotiating a delicate truce around the confirmation of Police Chief Tim Dolan, police reformers on the Minneapolis City Council seem to be retreating from one of the central demands in their fight for expanded police accountability—broad subpoena power for the Civilian Review Authority (CRA).

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, council members Betsy Hodges, Ralph Remington, and Elizabeth Glidden—three of the council’s most rabid police reformers—sat quietly as Council Member Paul Ostrow argued for sharply reduced subpoena power for the agency. “I’m not in favor of compelling witnesses to testify,” Ostrow said, adding that he viewed the CRA has less of a judicial and more of an “administrative-type” process.

He would not oppose issuing subpoenas to get material evidence, such as a convenience store videotape, to help CRA investigate cases of police misconduct, but he would not support a move that would compel eyewitnesses to testify.

This, of course, was exactly the type of broad powers the CRA working group recommended the agency be granted in its recently released report. The task force was looking for ways to make the CRA’s investigations more thorough and effective, and broad subpoena powers have always been though to be the only way to break through the culture of indifference that has characterized the police department’s relationship with the CRA..

Granting the CRA that power, however, would require a change in the city charter or approval from the State Legislature. And Tuesday’s meeting did little to advance the idea in either direction.

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