8/13/2012 Newsletter

Contents:

  • Snow Job: City Administration Desperate to Sell Plan to Destroy CRA
  • Strib: Don't Dilute Citizen Review of Police

SNOW JOB MASQUERADES AS COMMUNITY MEETINGS: City Administration Desperate to Sell Plan to Destroy CRA
Here we are in the middle of August but we are looking at a serious snow job.  At the demand of the city council, the Civil Rights department scheduled a series of meetings, ostensibly to hear from the community on their plans to destroy community oversight and put the Civilian Review Authority under police control.  However, in typical city fashion, they haven’t bothered to tell the community about them.  Even worse, the true purpose of the meetings is to sell us on this rotten plan.
 
The first "community" meeting was held on August 1st at City Hall, on just one day’s notice on the city’s website.  We were tipped off to it and attended.  The bulk of the meeting consisted of a long and plodding PowerPoint presentation designed to sell the community on the virtues of their plan.  Assistant Director Lee Reid worked hard to block the community from asking questions or making comments.  Throughout the presentation, it was obvious that none of the suggestions made by the CRA board had been incorporated.  At the end, someone asked about next steps and whether the community’s concerns would be taken into consideration.  We were told that if we don’t like the proposal, we should “take it up with the city council”—letting us know that the city administration is hell-bent on ramming through this deeply flawed plan.
 
Two more meetings are scheduled.  Don’t miss the chance to stand up against this outrageous gutting of community oversight.
 
Thursday, August 16 at 7:00 p.m.
Shiloh Temple
1201 W Broadway, Minneapolis
 
Tuesday, August 21 at 7:00 p.m.
Minneapolis City Hall, Rm 319
350 S 5th St, Minneapolis
(Note that the city council asked to have one of the meetings in south Minneapolis and we offered a venue, but the Civil Rights department is determined to control all aspects of these meetings and refused the offer.)
 
What’s so bad about their plan?  The list is long, but here are the most serious flaws:
 
Complaining to the cops about the cops doesn’t work.  As the plan states, the CRA office would exist “on paper only” and all complaints would really go to the police department.  For the most part, the community DOES NOT trust cops to investigate other cops, which is why the CRA was started in the first place.  The concerns are real—we’ve documented dozens of incidents of retaliation after people complained to Internal Affairs.  If the current court case is any indication, even cops who investigate other cops aren’t safe from retaliation.  Further, we studied community complaints to Internal Affairs and in ten years all but two complaints from community members were thrown out.
 
This proposal makes it unsafe to complain.  Check out p. 18 of the proposed ordinance.  The “firewall” added to the CRA ordinance in 2002, which prevents the city attorney’s office from mining complaints for chargeable offenses, is removed.  Further, because complaints would be made to police, complaints that can’t be proven could lead to people being prosecuted for “false reporting” of police
under Minnesota statute 609.505.  This charge only applies to people complaining TO police, which is why a true CIVILIAN review authority is a must.  People shouldn’t have to worry that their complaints will be used to prosecute them.
 
The chief still wouldn’t discipline.  Hearing panels under this proposal would consist of two “community members” (who would no longer have to be residents of Minneapolis) and two cops hand-picked by the chief.  The votes of each member would be recorded and sent to the chief.  It seems likely there will be a lot of tie votes (depending, of course, on how legit the “community members” actually are).  It also seems likely that the chief will give more weight to the votes of the cops than to the community members.  Watch—this will become the new excuse for not disciplining sustained complaints.
 
Unrealistic and just plain ridiculous timetables.  The proposed ordinance cuts in half the amount of time people have to complain—from one year down to 6 months.  This ensures that many people will not complain because any good lawyer will tell you not to talk to the city when you face or could face charges.  Even more ridiculous is a requirement that hearing panels write up and sign their recommendations within three business days.  These reports have a lot of elements to them and take some time to prepare.  Keep in mind that supposedly two of the panel members will be community volunteers, who will have to come back downtown to sign the report plus track down the two cop panel members.  What happens to the complaint if it isn’t written and signed within that three-day window?  This will become another excuse not to discipline.  On the other end of the spectrum, the proposed ordinance eliminates the current 30-day deadline for the chief to take action on the complaint.  In other words, the complainant has to file right away, the hearing panel has to issue a hasty report but the chief has all the time in the world.
 
The real reason for this proposal: During the first so-called community meeting, the Civil Rights department made it clear that this proposal is all about making the oversight process “acceptable” to the cops.  Every other word was “buy in” but this is completely wrong-headed.  Absolutely no evidence was produced indicating police officers or community members thought the process was unfair.  The REAL issue is that the Dolan uses illegal reasons to refuse to discipline sustained complaints.  Rather than changing the law, how about holding the chief to the law we already have?


Editorial: Don't dilute citizen review of police
August 12, 2012 - 5:42 PM
http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/165792186.html

Citizen review panels were developed to improve public confidence in how allegations of police misconduct were handled. Across the nation, civilians needed a place to lodge complaints and be treated fairly.

Minneapolis leaders are considering a proposal that would replace the city's Civilian Review Authority (CRA) with a combined police/citizen group. As it stands, the plan goes too far in reducing civilian influence -- defeating one purpose of citizen review.

Though there have been some improvements, Minneapolis has a history of troubled police-community relations. Over the years, the city has paid millions of dollars in settlements over complaints about police behavior. That's among the reasons why City Council members should make sure that any change maintains adequate civilian influence.

Currently, anyone with a complaint against police can take the concern to the CRA or to the department's internal-affairs unit. If the CRA decides to pursue a complaint, it takes testimony and can assign the case to a civilian investigator. Then the body can make recommendations to the police chief. Last year, the citizen group received just more than 350 complaints and heard about 20 percent of them.

However, under the new proposal, prepared by civil-rights department staff, the review panel and internal affairs would essentially merge under a new Office of Police Conduct. Together, the units would jointly process complaints and determine whether police or independent investigators should handle them. Currently there are two civilian and seven police officer investigators for CRA. [NOTE: This is an error. There are currently only civilian investigators. The proposal would add police investigators.]  All allegations of criminal misconduct would be handled by internal affairs.

A panel of two sworn officers and two citizens would review the investigative report and make recommendations to the chief for discipline or other action. The civil-rights director, a city employee, could make the decision in the event of a tie.

The change was proposed to secure more police buy-in and presumably make the process more effective. But if the review group is heavily tilted toward officers, it could lose credibility with the community. In addition, complainants may be less likely to come forward if they have to present their concerns to a police officer and have it investigated by police.

Another part of the staff proposal would eliminate the residency requirement for review panel members. Currently CRA members must live in Minneapolis. Changing that would also create a credibility problem with citizens; they want their fellow residents to hear their complaints.

In response to the staff proposal, the current CRA developed its own reorganization plan that strikes a better compromise. The review panel would include three citizens and one nonvoting police officer; recommendations would go to the chief, but the chief's decision could be appealed to the mayor. The CRA plan would also retain a residency requirement.

At least a couple City Council members have expressed concerns about the recommended changes. "This is a big step backwards. We've made some progress [on police-community relations] because of the CRA, and I'm worried that this would be a setback,'' said Council Member Cam Gordon.

City leaders should support an independent group of citizens to review allegations of police misconduct, not turn the group into an extension of police internal affairs.


Communities United Against Police Brutality
We meet every Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
at 4200 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis
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