City Council votes to overhaul CRA

It voted to change how the Civilian Review Authority will oversee police.

Jessica Lee

The Minneapolis City Council voted 8-5 Friday to overhaul a citizen agency that reviews cases of police misconduct.

The Civilian Review Authority, previously a civilian-run investigative panel, will now be comprised of two civilians and at least seven police investigators.

The council debated for more than an hour. Critics said the change “gives up” on the civilian voice while supporters said it would put Minneapolis at the “cutting-edge” of police oversight.

Conversations between civilians and police officers over cases of misconduct would happen for the first time, said Ward 5 Councilman Don Samuels, author and leader of the “revolutionary” police-civilian plan.

“Police officers and civilians are going to sit across the table and debate a difficult scenario and come to a conclusion,” Samuels said Friday.

Ward 3 Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents the University of Minnesota area, was the most outspoken critic, urging members to reject the motion.

“I think if this passes we are pretty much sending the message that we’ve given up on civilian oversight of the police,” Gordon said.

A panel of two civilians and two police officers will make recommendations based on evidence of the cases of officer misconduct. Whether officers are disciplined, however, remains up to the police chief.

The current system has an 11-member board of civilians.

Opponents of the change agreed the current CRA panel needed to be changed.

Members said under the current system, the panel gets overwhelmed with cases, with an average of 100 each year, said City Council President Barbara Johnson.

“The CRA in its current state is no longer working,” said Ward 13 Councilwoman Betsy Hodges, a critic of the new plan.

By working with the police department, proponents said the new system, “the Office of Police Conduct Review,” would handle complaints more efficiently.

Opponents said the new plan drastically changed the civilian aspect of the board.

Gordon introduced three amendments to modify the proposal.

One amendment, which failed 7-6, would have changed the ratio of the review panel to three civilians and two officers.

Gordon said the amendment would have given “more civilian voice to the hearing panels.”

“I think it ties back to the core principle of civilian review that our constituents want to see established in the city of Minneapolis,” said Ward 9 Councilman Gary Schiff, who supported Gordon’s amendment.

Samuels said the amendment was not progressive because it would be heading back in the old direction of overtaxing the system and digging deeper into personal resources.

A second amendment, altered by Schiff, lets complainants make a request for either a civilian or police investigator but gives the office the authority to decide which. It was passed 9-4, yet fueled the most debate.

Having enough civilians and enough civil rights staff for every single case is ideal, Samuels said. If more resources become available, then he said he and the council can “go back to the drawing board,” and the plan can be redesigned.

“The very reason we are making this change is because we do not have the resources to staff,” Samuels said to the council. “Unless Councilmember Gordon can come up with the dollars here or a budget suggestion, this will be an exercise in frustration.”

Gordon said it’s too early to close any doors addressing the department’s lack of affordability.

“If it’s going to take more money so [the Department of Civil Rights can] keep up, we’re prepared to come back and figure out how to do that,” Gordon said. “I’m prepared to do that, but it takes more than just one council member to make that kind of budget change.”

Gordon’s third amendment, which passed unanimously, prohibits police involved in an investigation from sharing information with others in the police department.

Samuels said the adoption of the amendment was “nothing lost nor gained” but was redundant because the police department already operates under those standards.

Johnson, who voted for the proposal, said the new system would likely be implemented in a year.

“We’ll see how this works,” she said. “I’m sure that whatever process we choose won’t make everyone happy. We will have critics in this process always.”