Michael Browne responds to police oversight board haters

Despite its critics, Office of Police Conduct Review Director Michael Browne says the new oversight system is an upgrade.

Despite its critics, Office of Police Conduct Review Director Michael Browne says the new oversight system is an upgrade.

Michael Browne should be used to seeing his work criticized. But the director of Minneapolis' Office of Police Conduct Review isn't taking it with his hands behind his head.

“I've been having this conversation for the last year,” he says.

That conversation involves clearing up what he calls misconceptions of the body that reviews complaints against police, weeding through a cacophony of stats measuring its performance.

Since the formation of the OPCR in 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and cop watchers have been knees in its back, calling for reviews or its outright disbandment. Communities United Against Police Brutality contends the newish review arm, which supplanted a widely panned older model, weakens civilian control and fails to bring justice to out-of-line cops.

“That is a criticism that is really judging the book by the cover,” Browne says.

Browne calls shenanigans on the claims, arguing that more civilians are now involved, although they're spread across what's now a three-pronged system. Under the old system, complaints against police were reviewed by three civilian members who would decide whether to refer them for action. The new four-person panels are now half cops, half Minneapolis residents appointed by the city.

Browne says the partnership helped the Minneapolis Police Department “buy in” to the new structure in a way it didn't with the old model.

“It's turning out to be a really good balance,” Browne says. “And so far the panels haven't been disagreeing on any of the outcomes of the cases, so what people were speculating would be an issue isn't an issue.”

According to data published by Communities Organized Against Police Brutality, nine of the 962 complaints the OPCR received in its first two and a half years led to formal discipline. However, Browne says the numbers are skewed, as 248 are either duplicate claims for the same incident or did not include allegations against MPD officers – some being gripes with troopers, transit cops, University of Minnesota or park police, which Browne's group does not have jurisdiction over, he says.

Though it's technically not considered a form of discipline, another 83 low-level cases led to cop “coaching” – essentially training for behaviors such as cursing at a driver during a traffic stop. The new board has emphasized steering these minor complaints, which once triggered full investigations and bogged down the old system, to coaching.

“Overall, I think we have a very superior system to what we had in the past and it's not being done anywhere in the country like this,” Browne says.

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