Police review agency must meet budget

In response to the recent scandals involving the Minneapolis Police Department, the city has decided to redesign the Civilian Review Authority, the agency that handles complaints against the police. As part of this process, the city has created the Review Authority’s redesign committee, a 24-member body responsible for addressing the complaints of the current department. Included in the committee’s recommendations are suggestions that the Review Authority become fully independent of the city’s police department and that it is able to subpoena witnesses. The most crucial part of the redesign effort, however, is that the agency is able to meet its new, reduced budget. Fortunately, the best proposal is also the most inexpensive, and the committee should send it to the city council for consideration.

In February, the Review Authority’s annual budget had been reduced from $457,000 to $200,000 because of citywide budget constraints, although last week its budget was increased to $250,000. The redesign committee is considering which of three separate proposals to send to the city council for consideration, although the least expensive is $412,875 – significantly higher than the proposed budget. This possibility is the least expensive because, unlike the other two, it does not propose the creation of a separate ombudsman’s office to handle civilian complaints, but instead would operate as a unit of the city’s Civil Rights Department. The cost of the other two proposals would be $534,500 and $545,750, more than twice the proposed budget. There is little possibility the city council will approve a budget that expensive.

Although each of three proposals has some merit, the redesign committee should vote to forward the least expensive proposal to the city council. The most important reason is that civilian complaints would be handled by the Civil Rights department, which has a respectable history of being responsive to citizens’ concerns. The complaint process would be more efficacious if handled by a department that has extensive experience resolving claims, rather than a new ombudsman’s office without such experience and that is simultaneously enduring the attendant startup difficulties. Also, as the entire city government is undergoing budget reductions, this arrangement would be more financially prudent without sacrificing any effectiveness, as many administrative responsibilities could be assumed by the Civil Rights Department, instead of being duplicated in a new ombudsman’s office.

This necessary redesign of the Review Authority has been surprisingly expeditious, occurring months after the fatal shooting of Abu Jeilani, a mentally ill Somali man. This effort has also been responsive, as the redesign committee has included many of the proposals necessary to ensure that complaints are managed in an impartial and judicious manner. It is important now that the committee understand that being parsimonious and adhering to a lower budget does not mean that its importance to the community will be at all compromised.