A somewhat curious community forum was held Tuesday night at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in south Minneapolis. About 20 people showed up at MCAD to offer opinions on the Minneapolis Police Department to two representatives from the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based nonprofit that goes by the acronym PERF. A man named Bill Tegeler spoke and fielded questions, Kevin Greene took notes.
Tegeler, a retired commander with the Santa Ana police department in southern California, began by saying “our mission is to help law enforcement agencies in whatever way they need.” Though what those needs are in regard to the MPD are not clear at this point.
“The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) is a national membership organization of progressive police executives from the largest city, county and state law enforcement agencies,” according to the mission statement its website. “PERF is dedicated to improving policing and advancing professionalism through research and involvement in public policy debate. Incorporated in 1977, PERF’s primary sources of operating revenues are government grants and contracts, and partnerships with private foundations and other organizations.”
The city contracted with PERF to analyze — not investigate, Tegeler stressed — the MPD’s Internal Affairs department, which critics charge has long been disorganized, poorly managed and downright hostile toward citizen complaints, to put it mildly. In August, the City Council directed the MPD to put out a request for a proposal for an audit of Internal Affairs. On Oct. 24, Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher presented the council’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee with a contract with PERF to the tune of $56,673.
“PERF has set national standards for policy as it relates to a variety of topics to include investigation of police misconduct and investigations,” noted a supporting document (PDF). “The panel felt that PERF’s reputation and knowledge of the issues would be best suited for a fair an objective audit of the MPD’s Internal Affairs complaint investigation process.”
The committee approved the deal, and the full council signed off on Nov. 2. Tegeler said the recommendations that PERF comes up with will be in a finished report at the end of July.
Citizen input paints a not-so-pretty picture
So Tegeler and Greene were seeking citizen input Tuesday night at MCAD, just as they had done the night before at the Urban League on the North side.
“I don’t think you’re going to shock us,” Tegeler said.
But those assembled — some usual MPD critics, some concerned citizens, a mix of black and white — immediately put Tegeler on the defensive.
Will the recommendations from the PERF report be public? “We’re not here to make a recommendation how the report will be disseminated,” Tegeler said in response to one man’s question.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to make it public?” the man persisted.
“You’re asking me the same question,” Tegeler said, laughing nervously.
To be fair, Tegeler had an unenviable task. He bore the brunt of years of frustration with MPD behavior and studies and investigations that change little or go nowhere. Nearly everyone in the room had a story to tell about misconduct, intimidation and malfeasance in dealing with the MPD. When Tegeler noted repeatedly that the audit would focus only on Internal Affairs, plenty of people had tales of woe in dealing with that department.
“Internal Affairs seems to a good job with internal issues,” noted Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality. She was armed with a stack of documents she culled from Data Practices requests, and added that the MPD was especially good in dealing with cases of drunk driving by off-duty officers.
“But they do an abysmal job with community concerns,” Gross continued, saying that her organization tells people who believe they have been victims of police misconduct to not even bother filing with Internal Affairs. “We’ve found that since 1991 there has been just one sustained complaint of excessive force.”
Others spoke about the failure of the MPD to adhere to a federal mediation agreement brokered by the Department of Justice five years ago, the disinclination of the department to do anything about sustained complaints that come from the Civilian Review Authority — the citizen group that investigates allegations of misconduct — and the fact that current Chief Tim Dolan has shuffled nearly all African-American officers out of leadership positions during his tenure.
Given the track record for reform within the MPD — which is to say, there isn’t much of one — the initiation and timing of an analysis by PERF is puzzling. Why now? And what, if anything, does this have to do with the Republican National convention coming to town? Will it all be so much window-dressing in the end?
For more than two hours, Tegeler heard complaints germane and not so. His patience was enough to let many at least air their grievances. But one question lingered: What will the PERF report say, ultimately? And will anyone see it?
“Why would a publicly funded report not be made public,” wondered longtime activist Guy Gambill. “The more I think about it, the more it seems crazy.”