City Council revamps Civilian Review Authority

The change comes after several complaints of the board being ineffective and its rulings unjustified.

by Koran Addo

University student William Pedersen knows firsthand that police brutality complaints did not get far with the Civilian Review Authority’s old structure.

Last fall Pedersen filed a claim with the CRA saying a police officer kicked and slapped him outside a friend’s house.

Pedersen said he tried unsuccessfully for four weeks to contact the CRA investigator in charge of his case. He then worked abroad for four months, and when he returned, the CRA had not made progress with his case.

“When I came back (the CRA) told me that they weren’t active anymore,” Pedersen said.

But now, Minneapolis City Council members and action groups hope a new board, new structure and new rules will make the CRA an effective check on how police treat people.

After complaints from council and community members, the City Council passed an ordinance last March restructuring the group. The CRA will begin hearing cases Monday.

Minneapolis officials created the seven-member CRA in 1991 to hear police brutality allegations. But budget cuts in early 2002 crippled the group’s investigative abilities. The CRA has not heard a case in almost two years.

“The general sentiment in the public was that the CRA was ineffective,” CRA board Chairman Michael Friedman said. “The city was over budget and they didn’t think the results were justified.”

Under the new structure, three board members will hear each case and decide whether to sustain a case – essentially determining if the claim is valid. Previously, the CRA executive director looked at each case first to determine whether there was enough evidence for the entire board to hear it.

If the CRA sustains a complaint, the board passes it on to the police chief, who has discretion on whether to discipline the officer or officers involved.

If the police chief decides not to discipline an officer after the CRA finds them to be at fault, the chief is obligated to write an explanation to the CRA and the mayor’s office.

CRA manager Barbara Damchik-Dykes said the burden of proof in determining whether cases will be sustained has also changed from “clear and convincing” to “more likely than not.”

“Clear and convincing evidence meant about 75 percent, which is a tough standard to meet,” she said.

Friedman said because the process is clearer for citizens, the new structure will allow for better communication with the community. Also, because people filing complaints can now attend the hearings, Friedman said they will be more involved with the process.

“(Before,) a complainant had no role in the hearing,” Friedman said. “It made people feel like nothing was happening.”

Some community members, however, were unconvinced the changes will yield an effective process.

“The CRA has never been worth anything since it was created in Minneapolis,” said Bill Cooley, a member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, an advocacy group for people abused by police.

Cooley said that before the restructuring, his group did not recommend that people take complaints to the CRA. He said he is hopeful – but skeptical – that the reforms will result in positive changes.

“We have enough faith in some of the members of the new board of the CRA, but we’re not sure if there going to be able to make it,” Cooley said.

Minneapolis police officer Ron Reier said the police also have some concerns about the CRA, although they recognize its necessity.

“There will always be an adversarial relationship,” Reier said. “We would like to think that we are a professional organization with high standards, but we are humans and there needs to be checks and balances.”

Reier said he is concerned about the CRA investigating every claim, because there is no investigation into the person making the claim.

“What about the person who makes the complaint, what happens if it turns out they were incorrect?” Reier said. “That’s where there are no checks and balances.”

But Pedersen said a separation from the police is necessary if the CRA is to be an effective advocate for the public.

“If (the CRA) is going to work, they need people who aren’t afraid of the police Ö community members who care and aren’t affected by political power,” Pedersen said.

Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby, 2nd Ward, who is on the Health and Human Services Committee that drafted the ordinance changing the CRA, said he also had doubts about the new structure. Zerby, who represents the University area, said the changes fell short of his expectations and he hopes the council will monitor the CRA’s effectiveness.

“I was quite disappointed with the way this was structured,” Zerby said. “What I wanted to do was treat it as a forum in which a complainant could actually have a little trial-type hearing where they would be able to sit in while the officer testified.”