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The University should add periods to the list of legitimate excuses.
Opinion: Period predicament
Published November 27, 2023

Twin Cities activists say new civilian police review board leaves lots to be desired

Advocates argue the Community Commission on Police Oversight has no real authority and thus can be ignored by the Minneapolis Police Department and city.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein
Minneapolis police car in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Friday July 7, 2023.

The Community Commission on Police Oversight (CCPO) is Minneapolis’ latest workgroup intended to give the public a say in policing, yet many activists feel the commission does not have the power it needs.

CCPO will investigate police misconduct complaints, recommend disciplinary action, propose police training and suggest changes to police procedures.

With the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) agreeing to change its procedures and culture following investigations from the state and federal government, both activists and board members agreed the time for greater oversight of the MPD is now.

This commission is a 15-member board, with one member from each of the city’s 13 wards and two appointed by the mayor. The board held an internal election on July 10 which resulted in Mary Dedeaux-Swinton and Latonya Reeves being elected as chair and co-chair for the board.

Dedeaux-Swinton said this commission is a chance for Minneapolis residents to become more involved in the future of policing in the city.

“It’s no secret that there is a lack of trust between some of the community and law enforcement,” Dedeaux-Swinton said. “This is an opportunity to let citizens know that not just the sworn officers are involved in oversight.”

CCPO will be able to investigate complaints of excessive use of force at the hands of police. 

Investigations will be done by a five-member panel on a rotating basis. Three of the five members will be from the commission, while the other two spots will be taken by MPD officers appointed by the police chief.

After the panel makes its decision, the police chief will have 30 days to request further investigation into the incident, follow through with the panel’s decision or decline to pursue any disciplinary action. The decision to include officers has drawn criticism from activist groups.

Jae Yates, a member of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, said police should not have any say in the community oversight of MPD.

“I don’t think that police officers have any business being involved in a board that is trying to address their own corruption and misconduct,” Yates said. “It’s a conflict of interest.”

President of Communities United Against Police Brutality Michelle Gross said with police on the panel, the purpose of the commission is disregarded.

“There’s no point of doing this work because the police are going to just keep their work and redo it anyway,” Gross said. “It’s just an extra step and waste of time and money and resources.”

The city tried civilian oversight of MPD through a commission previously with CCPO’s predecessor, the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC). PCOC was established in 2012 and, like CCPO, was meant to give the public a larger role in policing. 

After facing inaction and resistance from the city council and city staff, most of the board members resigned. There are currently three members out of the nine positions that are on PCOC.

Because the council and mayor did not replace them, the board does not have enough members required to hold meetings. The remaining members’ terms will end in December 2023 which will mark the unofficial end of PCOC.

PCOC only had one government email address for the public to contact them. However, city staff controlled that email and had discretion on whether to forward emails to the members. By  PCOC’s end, the city staff had never forwarded an email to the board, according to Gross.

City staff would not help members of PCOC find publicly available data for their research, according to Gross. She added that it is unclear whether city staff will be more cooperative this time around.

While CCPO and PCOC do differ, many activists said they feel the problems with PCOC will still affect CCPO.

Community input

CCPO will host their first policy meeting where residents can make public comments on Aug. 7.

Reeves said she wants to hear from Minneapolis residents through emails and public comments in their meetings for the commission to be as good as it can be.

“To ensure that public safety is equitable and fair, we have to have community input because they’re the people who have to deal with policing in the community,” Reeves said.

Dedeaux-Swinton acknowledged the commission is not perfect, but said there are still reasons to like it.

“[Board members] all come with different backgrounds, different perspectives, but I think that that is part of the beauty,” Dedeaux-Swinton said. “If you listen to the Commission meetings, you’ll see that we do not all agree on everything, but my hope is that we will come to a consensus and do whatever is best for the city.”

New commission, same problems

Founder of Black Lives Matter Minnesota Trahern Crews said although CCPO is an improvement, it still needs more reforms to be a success.

“I don’t think that it’s just a total wash, but I think that they really need to go back to the drawing board and make it a real civilian oversight committee that doesn’t include police officers,” Crews said.

Gross said without significant changes, CCPO will be a failure.

“As long as police remain on the panels, as long as the staff fails to cooperate, and as long as they put up barriers to the community, then I don’t see any change,” Gross said. “I see little to nothing that’s going to come out of it.”

Many activists said they feel MPD will continue to dodge accountability as they did with PCOC. Previously, MPD would use “coaching” –– a practice where an officer’s bad behavior is verbally addressed –– to avoid public criticism, according to Gross.

While complaints resulting in discipline are made public, coaching is not considered discipline and therefore is not made public. According to Yates, the public still does not have enough control over the commission that it should.

“We need something substantive that gives the community some actual control over how police are conducting themselves,” Yates said. “That can’t be accomplished by a toothless review board.”

Crews said the commission needs to be stronger to reform the MPD.

“This oversight committee should be in a position to make sure that the MPD doesn’t continue to harm black Americans, and right now that’s not the case,” Crews said.

Like PCOC, CCPO is limited by a Minnesota state law that prevents civilian police review boards from imposing discipline on an officer.

Dedeaux-Swinton said that, while the commission is not as strong as some may want, they will work to make it as successful as possible.

“We will do the best we can within the boundaries that have been set for us,” Dedeaux-Swinton said.

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