Dancing as Fast as She Can

Is the director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights department really doing anything?

Asked about Owens Hayes directly, Lilligren says: "She tends to respond with the status quo. It's not surprising, because she is within the system."

Zerby laments the lack of subpoena power in the plan: "The plan as brought forward completely guts the intent" of the original task force report, he adds. Zerby has repeatedly expressed concern that the chronic delays in formulating a workable CRA plan would make it impossible for the city to seek any needed corollary changes in state statutes regarding open records, since the council sets its legislative agenda before the end of the year.

At a November 22 meeting, Zerby's prophecy came true: The council voted against taking several CRA issues to the state legislature, including a requirement that Minneapolis police officers live in the city (which was repealed by the legislature in 1999) and proposed changes to the Data Practices Act to allow open CRA meetings.

Vanne Owens Hayes's tenure as civil rights director hasn't been all smiles
Vanne Owens Hayes's tenure as civil rights director hasn't been all smiles

Finally, the council also voted against adding subpoena power to the CRA. Police review boards in many major cities--such as New York, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Denver--possess subpoena power; many observers consider it an obligatory part of any serious police review body.

"No matter what model of civilian review you choose, it's now clear that you need subpoena power to properly account for police activity," says Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and a noted civilian review expert. He adds that a version of the Minneapolis redesign he saw was "terrible."

Meanwhile, the timeline in Owens Hayes's "implementation plan" now stretches well into March 2003, more than a year after the redesign process began.

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