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Skepticism greets proposed Minneapolis plan for handling complaints against police

A new process proposed for hearing complaints filed against Minneapolis Officers drew a lot of questions Wednesday from members of a City Council committee.

Currently, complaints against officers may be taken to the Department of Civil Rights, which has two civilian investigators, or to the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit, which has six sworn officers on staff to investigate complaints.

“There is a lack of understanding about who is responsible for discipline,” said Velma Korbel, the city’s director of civil rights, who added that the current system was “not meeting our needs.”

Under the new system, all complaints would be filed with the new Office of Police Conduct Review, which would replace the current Civilian Police Review Authority.

The new office would combine civilian and sworn investigators who would review the complaints and assign them for investigation or mediation or send them to another agency.

Those filing complaints would have no say in who might eventually investigate the allegations. Now, a complainant can choose either of the two groups to investigate.

Removing the ability to choose drew criticism from members of the Public Safety, Health and Civil Rights Committee.

 “If I have a complaint against you, it’s awfully hard to ask you to investigate you,” said Council Member Meg Tuthill, adding, “I’m wide open to any suggestions.”

“The bottom line is there are only two investigators in the Civil Rights Department,” said Korbel, who said her investigators are still working on cases filed in 2009.

“It may well be that someone coming in with a complaint might prefer a civilian doing the investigating rather than a police officer,” said Council Member Betsy Hodges. “The fact that they have a complaint against the Police Department shows some distrust.”

“The civilian will not have a choice,” said Lee Reid, deputy director of the Civil Rights Department. He explained that assignments might be made based on investigators’ current caseloads.

“We do have occasions when people tell us they don’t trust us,” said Internal Affairs’ Lt. Travis Glample, who worked with Reid on the new proposal. Glample said the investigation process would remain the same no matter the assigned staffer.

In the past, investigators could make recommendations for action. However, during the last legislative session, that statute was changed. Now, the results of the investigation go to a review panel without recommendations.

The four-member review panels would consist of two civilians and two sworn officers. They would have three days to reach a conclusion.

They would be drawn from two pools of seven each, with three appointed by the mayor and four appointed by the City Council.

As currently written, the ordinance states that the civilians need not be residents of Minneapolis.

“I’m more than uncomfortable with seven members with no residency requirement,” said Tuthill. “Peers are people who live in Minneapolis.”

“We’ll certainly go with a residency requirement,” said Korbel. Her staff had explained that they dropped the residency requirement from the proposal both because some complainants don’t live in Minneapolis and to broaden the pool of participants.

Council members had been expected to set an Aug. 8 public hearing on the proposal but decided instead to hold two community meetings first to explain the proposal.

“This is a big deal,” said Council Member Cam Gordon. “It’s a big deal for the city. We should really take some time.”

Council members also asked for more research.

The two community meetings have not yet been scheduled. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Sept.12.

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