A new civilian police oversight commission in Minneapolis is just six months old, but it’s already facing some of the same criticism as the commission it replaced.
A Minneapolis City Council committee last week received an update on the progress of the Community Commission on Police Oversight (CCPO), a 15-member commission created last year to replace the Police Conduct Oversight Commission. Many have said the old commission was ineffective and that city leaders and former Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo ignored its work. Attorney Abigail Cerra, who chaired the commission, resigned following a lack of urgency from city officials to fill vacancies, which prevented the group from holding meetings.
After the council committee update on the new commission, Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley wrote that her office has received “concerning feedback” on the new commission’s work, including a lack of focus and public transparency, delays and minimal contact with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
“I am very much vested in the success of this body, and intend to engage with staff beyond this meeting to understand what Council needs to do to support its success,” Wonsley wrote.
The new commission meets publicly at least eight times per year, and its duties include requesting research into MPD complaints, investigation and disciplinary records, making recommendations related to MPD policies, doing community outreach and being part of the MPD chief’s annual performance review, among others. The body also serves as a rotating pool for smaller panels consisting of three commissioners and two sworn officers that review specific police misconduct cases and make disciplinary recommendations to Chief Brian O’Hara.
During a presentation to the council’s Public Health and Safety Committee last week, Department of Civil Rights Director John Jefferson told council members that the group has held six public meetings so far — much of which has consisted of training for commissioners and guest speakers. Training topics included use of force, ethics, MPD’s disciplinary matrix and how to review cases while on the smaller review panels.
Just two review panels — which review at least two cases per panel over seven days — have been convened since the commission was established in May.
Ward 6 Commissioner AJ Awed said in an interview that while he couldn’t discuss specifics of the disciplinary review panel he served on, his experience was positive.
“It was fair and balanced, commissioners were, I think, thinking in unison in terms of their duty to the public, and even the officers were resoundingly on the same page in disciplinary recommendations for one of the officers,” he said.
In contrast to concerns with the previous oversight body around whether their recommendations will be taken into account, Awed said O’Hara has told commissioners that he values their input.
“I’m confident from how (O’Hara) has been working with us and really being open, that he’ll probably be a strong ally,” he said. “The commissioners are only going to be as strong as the chief of police, and this chief of police seems to be genuinely interested in working with us.”
Wonsley’s criticism was also targeted toward the Office of Police Conduct Review’s data dashboard, which has also been experiencing delays in updates as the city tries to integrate the Axon system with which they are now contracted. The dashboard shows just 32 complaints filed by the public against officers for all of 2023, which is hundreds less than previous years. Jefferson told council members the city is working to add the backlog of data to more accurately represent the actual figure.
“These public communication problems are exacerbating existing gaps in trust between the public and the city when it comes to police oversight,” Wonsley said in the newsletter.
Wonsley’s staff told MinnPost on Wednesday that the council member will be meeting with the leadership of the city’s civil rights department to figure out how to “improve the functionality of the body.”
Awed said there have been “growing pains” in getting the commissioners up to speed to begin their real work — and the slow pace has been a frustration for many of the commissioners. But, he said, with trainings nearly complete, they’re nearly ready to begin engaging the community and examining MPD policies.
“Because this is a new commission and there’s just all this restructuring with the city and the new government structural changes, we did have a little bit of a messy start,” he said. “But generally speaking, things are starting to move pretty well.”