Officials must give CRA authority before money

Events of the past few months have proven the need for the Civilian Review Authority more than any Minneapolis City Council debate could. In an effort to rid the city of its projected $5.2 million budget shortfall, officials slashed more than half the CRA’s budget, leaving it with a paltry $200,000. Given the recent buzz in City Hall and the widening vocal condemnations of the Minneapolis Police Department among Minneapolis citizens, it is tempting to just throw thousands more dollars at the CRA and at least bring it significantly closer to its former allotment.

But to do so would be a quick fix, doomed to failure because of its superficiality, and city officials must resist the temptation to cover the CRA’s deep flaws with a fresh coat of green.

Thus far, debate surrounding the CRA has almost invariably come back to money. Too often, when supporters and opponents get near the heart of the matter – CRA’s usefulness – they seem to use it as a justification or refutation of funding concerns. In The Minnesota Daily story “Community leaders debate police review authority’s future,” (April 18) Urban League President Clarence Hightower said, “If the CRA was not totally successful when it was fully funded, how can it be effective with partial funding?” Unfortunately, and almost assuredly inadvertently, Hightower justified not fully funding the CRA by saying it
wasn’t fully effective before.

So instead of pushing money at a program that most admit didn’t work as well as it should, officials must first concentrate on making the CRA viable. And once it is given the opportunity, we feel confident the CRA will quickly transition from viable to vital, justifying full funding.

For starters, the organization must, as many have pointed out, be given “teeth.” Currently, the CRA has no subpoena power and can take no action, regardless of what its investigations produce. Whatever the review authority finds is turned over to the police chief, who then decides what action, if any, to take.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would be a colossal waste of money if it could only issue reports of a company’s regulatory violations to the head of the company. But because it can do more, OSHA is effective. The same will hold true for the CRA.

While remaining independent of the police department, it should be given the ability to discipline officers and administrators with options ranging from fines to firings. To protect officers, an appeals process administered by the City Council should also be put into place. By not going through the court system and forcing officers to wait months for their cases to come up on the docket, CRA mistakes could be quickly overturned, helping to ensure innocent officers would not be left without a paycheck for too long.

These changes must be made, because Minneapolis citizens need the CRA. But they need it in a capacity where the “Authority” is not a misnomer.