Some questions about MPD Chief Harteau’s Citizens Advisory Council

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On Wednesday, January 21, a discussion item on the agenda of the Minneapolis City Council's Public Safety, Civil Rights & Emergency Management Committee will be Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau's Citizens Advisory Council. Here's a letter I recently emailed to that committee:
 
Dear Public Safety, Civil Rights & Emergency Management Committee members:

I see that a discussion item postponed from your December 10, 2014, agenda now appears on the agenda for your meeting next Wednesday. I again submit for your consideration the issues I raised in December about MPD Chief Harteau’s Citizens Advisory Council, and I urge you to raise these issues in your discussion on January 21.
 
1. Membership. Apparently, the membership of this council is selected by the Chief of Police. However, for those of us who follow issues of police accountability in this city, important segments of the community and/or vital organizations or agencies have been excluded. Specifically, I would mention two: Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) and the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC).
 
CUAPB, a group whose sole focus for its entire 15-year existence has been police accountability, could bring a wealth of experience as well as a much-needed different perspective to the Chief’s council. Many see police misconduct in terms of individual police officers, “a few bad apples” that may be spoiling the barrel. Others, and I would include CUAPB among these folks, see police misconduct as institutional, as coming from the function and the goals of policing in the 21st century. I believe that perspective may well be missing from the Chief’s council, whether intentionally so or not.
 
The PCOC is the city’s official citizen-input body regarding police accountability issues, with a mandate to recommend MPD policy changes, to monitor the civilian oversight process, and even to contribute to the performance review of the chief of police. How such a body is not included with some representation on the Chief’s Citizens Advisory Council makes a mockery of the title of that council.
 
I do realize the Civil Rights Department has representation on this council, but to my knowledge, there has never been a report back to the PCOC about what the Advisory Council is doing. Frankly, this is shocking. Moreover, the PCOC is an independent citizen body, and its interests might diverge from those of the Office of Police Conduct Review, the portion of the Civil Rights Department that deals with police accountability issues.
 
I have communicated these suggestions to the Chief and received no response.
 
2. Secrecy. The Chief’s council meets in secret. A FAQ on its website reads: “Due to the need to have open and constructive discussions, members have asked that the meetings not be open to the public so they can talk freely. However, reports and action plans will be posted on the MPD Facebook page, as well as the MPD webpage.”
 
I am always suspicious of advisory groups that require secrecy in order for the dialogue to be more open. I’m sure you all remember Vice President Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group — more commonly known as the “Cheney Energy Task Force” — and its secret membership and meetings. (At least the membership of the Chief’s Advisory Council is not kept secret.) Democrats raised an uproar about the Cheney task force. I ask myself why there is no similar uproar over Chief Harteau’s secret Advisory Council meetings.
 
Since the Chief claims that it is the membership of the council who want it to meet in private — the Chief, incidentally, is a co-chair of that council — I have also written the Chief and asked for five minutes at a meeting to explain why meeting in secret, for several reasons, is an unwise policy. Again, no response.
 
3. Results of the meetings. As noted above, supposedly “reports and action plans will be posted….” I have looked and found nothing. Until I wrote the MPD and informed them that even agendas were not appearing on the Advisory Council’s website, even topics up for discussion were not being provided. If you look at the latest “meeting highlights” for the November 12, 2014 meeting, there is no recap of any of the advice the Chief is getting from this council. If these are “meeting highlights,” its lack of specificity is embarrassing.
 
I really have been surprised and flustered about the lack of questioning by our elected officials about the secret, almost Kafka-esque nature of the Chief’s council. In 1913, soon-to-be Justice Brandeis wrote in Harper’s Weekly: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” One hundred and one years later, we still seem not to have gotten the message.
 
Yours,
 
Chuck Turchick

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