Zero transparency for Minneapolis CRA’s replacement agency

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Effective on September 29, 2012, the terms of the then Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority (CRA) board members were terminated. The new Office of Police Conduct Review — basically a merger of the CRA and the Internal Affairs Unit of the Minneapolis Police Department — was to replace the CRA, in accordance with the City Council action of September 12, 2012 .

The new agency has two parts: a Police Conduct Review Panel, from which two citizens would be assigned to sit (along with two police officers) on each four-person panel that would review complaints, and the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, which was to have outreach and policy suggestion responsibilities.

One of the reasons given for these changes was “to increase the level of transparency and access” with respect to the civilian oversight process.

Don Samuels, the Minneapolis City Council member who proposed these changes, said this was an experiment, and revisions would likely be made after a year or so. Well, tomorrow we’re exactly halfway to the end of a year since the CRA board members were terminated, so it might be appropriate to look at this increased transparency.

So far, other than the announcement of the three people whose terms began November 26, 2012, there has been zero transparency regarding all aspects of the Police Conduct Review Panel. Let me repeat that: There has been ZERO TRANSPARENCY regarding the workings of the new oversight agency. And no one has even been appointed yet to the Oversight Commission.

Complaints are being accepted, but since the CRA board last met on September 5, 2012, there has been no public disclosure about what happened to all of the cases pending at that time. Cases that had been scheduled for hearings, the Chief’s decisions in cases that had already been submitted to him by CRA board hearing panels, and cases that were still being investigated — for none of those cases has there been any public disclosure. Zero transparency. The public knows nothing.

There also has been no public disclosure of whether those complainants who had filed complaints with the CRA had been informed of the changes that had occurred in the process, or what their responses were when so informed. This information could be most revealing regarding the public’s acceptance of this new process. But alas, the public knows nothing.

Pre-CRA dismantling, monthly reports were publicly available. These included disclosure of the number of complaints filed, the types of complaints and locations of the alleged incidents, the length of service and previous records of officers against whom complaints had been filed, what was happening with previously filed complaints, and assorted other data that provided the public with at least some transparency. No such reports have been made public since September 5, 2012. For the past seven months, zilch. The public knows nothing.

Have any review panels heard any cases since the three civilians’ terms began on November 26? Have any panel decisions been made on the merits of those complaints? Have any cases gone to the Chief? The public knows nothing.

In the new process, there is an option for handling minor infractions by referring them directly to the officer’s supervisor. How many have been referred? With what results? The public knows nothing.

Under the old, “less transparent” system, the CRA was required to make quarterly reports to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, which also gave the public a glimpse into the workings of the agency, possible trends that could be seen, and problems staff had identified. Even those have stopped.

If this is transparency, I am way overdue for an eye examination.

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