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Minneapolis City Council committee advances police oversight proposal amid criticism

Several community members and activists called the proposal rushed and lacking any real power for civilians to hold officers accountable.

Minneapolis police officers point a rubber bullet gun and mace to break up protestors near the Third Precinct during a protest on May 27, 2020.
Minneapolis police officers point a rubber bullet gun and mace to break up protesters near the Third Precinct during a protest on May 27, 2020.
REUTERS/Eric Miller

A Minneapolis City Council committee moved forward with changes to the city’s civilian police oversight process despite pleas from the public to reject the proposal during a Wednesday public hearing.

City officials say the goals of the changes are to provide Minneapolis residents with more transparency and input in the review process. But several community members and activists during Wednesday’s hearing came out against the proposal, calling it rushed and lacking any real power for civilians to hold officers accountable.

The proposed Community Commission on Police Oversight (CCPO) ordinance would create a body of 15 civilians, consolidating the city’s existing civilian oversight structure.

The commission would recommend changes to policies and procedures to city elected officials and the police chief. It would also serve as a pool for smaller panels made up of three civilians and two sworn police officers that would review police misconduct investigations and make recommendations to the chief.

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The move is meant to remedy persistent problems with the city’s existing oversight structure. The Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC), for example, hasn’t met since the spring. Six of the nine positions – meant to be appointed by the mayor and city council – are vacant, and the terms of the three remaining members are set to expire at the end of the month.

Council member Linea Palmisano
Council Vice President Linea Palmisano
“It wasn’t good enough and we get that,” said Council Vice President Linea Palmisano during Wednesday’s hearing. “This is our attempt to do better. This is our attempt to take criticisms from the past, lots of them, from the community.”

Just one of the nearly 20 Minneapolis residents who spoke before council members at Wednesday’s public hearing supported the proposal.

Residents provided a litany of reasons for their dissatisfaction with the action, including: how quickly it was put together and made public, the requirement of just four meetings of the commission per year, the positions being appointed and not elected, and the lack of adequate compensation for commissioners.

“This proposal, similar to what’s in place now, throws the civilians that are appointed as the public face 50 bucks per meeting,” said Linden Gawboy of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar (TCC4J). “I know that I would not feel hugely responsible or much respected if I was being paid and treated like that for a job that’s super critical to the community.”

Activists at the hearing pointed to a plan from TCC4J called the Civilian Police Accountability Commission, which would create an elected civilian accountability board over the police department.

Opponents of the proposal also referred to it as “toothless,” calling the smaller five-member review panel investigating police misconduct featuring two officers, and only being able to make recommendations to the chief, emblematic of its lack of real power.

“Any commission whose decisions can simply be vetoed by the police chief is pointless. We’ve seen time and time again that when officers are allowed to conduct their own investigations, they find themselves not guilty,” Jae Yates told council members. “Our community has been ravaged by racist police violence for decades, we deserve better than this farce of legislation.”

Several changes were made to the proposal during the committee meeting via amendments, including the addition of an extra member to the oversight panel to make it five members total: three civilians and two sworn officers. Also, the chair of the commission would now be chosen by the commission itself instead of one of the mayor’s appointees assuming the role.

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Original language in the proposed ordinance gave the Minneapolis City Council discretion over 13 of the appointments on the commission and Mayor Jacob Frey would have chosen the remaining two. But an amendment from Palmisano adopted by the committee on a 3-2 vote now gives the mayor seven appointees and the council eight.

Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah
Council Member Robin Wonsley
The ordinance was passed out of committee on a 3-2 vote, with Council members Palmisano (Ward 13), LaTrisha Vetaw (Ward 5) and Michael Rainville (Ward 3) voting in favor. Council member Robin Wonsley (Ward 2), who voted no and made a motion to delay that ultimately failed, echoed the speakers’ concerns regarding adequate community input.

“Working class people in this town really know what they’re talking about when it comes to police oversight and deserve to be substantially included,” she said. “It’s unfair to be asked, as you all named, to have to respond to something that’s so critical in just a day and a half.”

The proposal will go before the entire council for a vote during their next meeting on Dec. 8.