Mpls City Council passes Civilian Review Authority overhaul 8-5

Mpls City Council passes Civilian Review Authority overhaul 8-5
Councilmembers Don Samuels (left) and Cam Gordon (right) heatedly clashed on the proposal.

After a heated debate, the Minneapolis City Council voted 8-5 to approve an amended overhaul of the Civilian Review Authority, a controversial police oversight board started more than 20 years ago.

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Today's vote will eliminate the current model -- a board of appointed citizens who review police misconduct complaints independent of police -- and create an entirely new, first-of-its-kind process that combines police and citizens. In the hybrid plan, seven police and two civilian investigators will review misconduct complaints, then send their findings to a panel of two civilians and two officers for evaluation. The panel's recommendation will go to the police chief, who will decide whether or not discipline is warranted.

"We have a real chance to show the rest of the country that we're on the cutting edge," said Councilmember Don Samuels, who proposed the overhaul.

But not everyone was so optimistic. Despite a last-minute amendment that will allow complainants to request civilian investigators, City Councilman Cam Gordon remained the harshest critic of the new plan.

"I think, if this passes, pretty much we're sending the message that we're giving up on civilian oversight of the police," said Gordon before the vote.

Gordon proposed three amendments to the proposal at today's meeting. The first would increase the number of people on the panel from four to five, to be filled by three civilians and two officers, giving civilians the majority. The motion narrowly failed by a 6-7 vote.

The second amendment, which passed unanimously, added language into the ordinance placing a so-called "firewall" around details of the investigations, meaning only the staff assigned to the review panel and oversight commission could see it, "unless authorized by law."

The third amendment garnered the most debate among councilmembers. In cases that don't involve criminal allegations, Gordon proposed that complainants be able to request a civilian investigator.

Samuels said he feared a majority of complainants would opt for the civilian route. Since the civilian side has fewer investigators than police, the system would be disproportionately overburdened, in turn replicating many of the problems with the current board.

"If you're going to overburden the staff, it's an unfunded mandate, and unless Councilmember Gordon can come up with the dollars fund two new people, this is going to be an exercise in frustration," said Samuels.

Samuels continued: "This is a dream. It's an ideal that is not planned for in the current budget or the current structure. It can't work. It just can't work."

Gordon's amendment passed 8-5 with one tweak: If a complainant asks for a civilian, the request "may" be granted, meaning it also may not.

Samuels argued this could give complainants false hope, but several councilmembers noted it would at the least measure how many complainants would prefer the civilian option.

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