A new misconduct review board for the Minneapolis Police Department may be as ineffective as the one it replaced.
A new report by the Minneapolis Star Tribune found that of the 439 cases of police misconduct that have been brought before the city’s year-old misconduct review board, not one of the police officers involved has been disciplined.
The city of Minneapolis spent $14 million in payouts for alleged police misconduct between 2006 and 2012, despite the fact that the Minneapolis Police Department often concluded that the officers involved in those cases did nothing wrong, according to the Star Tribune’s analysis.
Of the 439 cases, a number of those were dismissed because they were more than 270 days old. The exact number of cases that were thrown out because too much time had lapsed is not known. Seventeen cases were flagged by the review board as cases that merited possible disciplinary action and seven of those were sent to Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau.
Harteau was not immediately available for comment. Assistant Chief Matt Clark said that of those seven cases, five were considered “non-disciplinary violations,” explaining that the officers involved merely needed coaching from supervisors on how to improve the way they interact with general public.
This apparent failure to hold officers accountable for their actions has prompted renewed scrutiny of how the Minneapolis Police Department disciplines its officers, and whether or not the new review board is working better than the system it replaced.
Last year, the city dismantled its Police Civilian Review Authority board and replaced it with the Office of Police Conduct Review board, which is comprised of two police lieutenants and two citizens who were appointed by the Minneapolis City Council.
One of the identified problems about the city’s now-dismantled review board was that former Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan reportedly failed to discipline officers after the review board recommended doing so.
Medaria Arradondo is the commander of police internal affairs, who reviews complaints along with Michael Browne, director of the new conduct review office. He said he believes there has been considerable progress with the department’s review board.
Both Browne and Arradondo told the Star Tribune that it’s too early to judge the new review office, which has two civilian investigators and seven investigators who are police officers.
But Teresa Nelson, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota disagreed, saying upon its creation, many feared the new review board would not improve the process for reviewing instances of police misconduct and would lead to less discipline for officers. “The numbers show that those criticisms were accurate,” she said.
Brian Buchner, vice president of the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, agrees. He said the lack of discipline from the 439 cases has raised red flags about the objectivity of the office.
“People should be asking questions and the council should be asking questions about whether it’s effective,” he said. “Any time you have as significant a revamping as has been done in Minneapolis, the decision makers have an obligation to evaluate the impact.”
Browne said the office was taking “big steps” to clear a backlog of complaints, to which Arradondo added that while the complaint process had been streamlined, “we still have a lot of work to do to improve upon, both in the areas of building public confidence in the process and infrastructure in terms of staffing.”
Browne added that the office had sent 99 complaints to precincts, recommending that supervisors coach officers to improve the way they interact with the public. While he recognizes the importance of disciplining officers, Browne said the office believes if officers are coached and educated on how to properly behave, they may change police culture.
Officers should think about “garnering respect of the community, not because of the discipline,” Browne said, “but what is best for society. … If you only use the hammer you aren’t using all the tools in the toolbox to effect the change.”
Samuel Walker is a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who has written two books on police accountability. He said that the technique of coaching officers how to best interact with the public and do their jobs “has a lot of merit to it,” but said he found it “troubling” that the city was not disciplining more officers.
“I am disturbed about that and that it is a police-dominated process with citizen input,” he said.
This is especially relevant in the wake of the recent incidents of police misconduct at the Minneapolis Police Department including the use of racial slurs against members of the public by off-duty officers. Slurs against a person’s race, gender or sexual orientation are not considered minor violations, meaning those officers are subject to discipline — not just coaching.
To ensure that the cases of police misconduct are being thoroughly and fairly investigated, another Police Conduct Oversight Commission board — which will consist of seven civilians appointed by the mayor and City Council — will audit the way complaints are handled.
“With input from the commission, the process will continue to be evaluated for effectiveness and additional changes will be proposed to the mayor and City Council when warranted,” according to the city’s website.
In addition to the creation of another review board, the two separate incidents of police misconduct by Minneapolis officers that made national headlines this summer will also be examined by community, religious and cultural leaders as well as members of the police union.
During a press tour earlier this August, Harteau said she doesn’t think there is a culture of racism in the department, but said a few officers may have racist views.
“If I thought this was widespread, I’d walk away,” she told a local FOX affiliate. “I wouldn’t be a part of it,” adding that she believes using racial epithets while off the job can be considered grounds for termination.
Harteau has said she plans to create a “culture of accountability” and told Minnesota Public Radio that “people get motivated when they’re angry, when they’re frustrated, when they say enough is enough – and whether it be internally at this department or externally in the community, people have had enough. It’s high time that we start to move this department in the right direction.”
Meetings between Harteau and the Citizen’s Advisory Council have been closed to the general public and reporters. Local media and community leaders say this goes against Harteau’s promise of a transparent department.
The group’s findings are expected to be released in September.