Three questions: MPLS civil rights director

Michael K. Browne and the future of the CRA

In this season of high-profile candidacies, it's not likely that you've heard of Michael K. Browne, the acting director of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. But Browne, who took over for Jayne Khalifa after she was appointed Deputy City Coordinator in May, has already appeared relatively proactive in what has in recent history been a moribund city department.

Most notably, before his appointment, Browne authored a study that raised serious questions about the state of the city's Civilian Review Authority, the citizen board that investigates complaints against the Minneapolis Police Department. The CRA has been flogged to death repeatedly since its inception in 1991, and skeptics could read Browne's report as another case of the city applying more window dressing to an entity they'd rather see disappear once and for all.

But since he took over the civil rights department, Browne has stayed the course on CRA reform, and his interim directorship was recently extended by Mayor R.T. Rybak. As a sign of his political acumen, perhaps, agititators and city bureacrats from the African American community could be spotted at J.D. Hoyt's downtown on a recent Friday evening celebrating Browne's extension--a rare sign of unity.

Yet another task force has been assigned to make changes to the CRA, to that end and there's a public hearing Wednesday, 7 p.m., at the Brian Coyle Center at 420 15th Avenue south, near Cedar-Riverside in Minneapolis.

In light of that event, Browne answered three questions via e-mail from Blotter regarding the future of the CRA.

City Pages: What sorts of changes are being sought in the CRA protocol and why?

Michael K. Browne: Overall, the CRA task force has striven to maintain the integrity of the CRA's authority while creating a more focused process. This is important for several reasons: For the community, the CRA must be a credible avenue to grieve a complaint of police misconduct in where the decision can be trusted; and for the officers, the mysticism of CRA process must be dispelled while ensuring due process, especially since civilian oversight is a condition of employment with the City of Minneapolis.

A comprehensive summary of the task force's work is available on the City's website, and there are noticeable changes to highlight. For example, the CRA task force: (1) endorsed the recommendation to conduct a comprehensive study/audit of the MPD internal affairs unit; (2) maintained the integrity of the CRA Board's authority by making certain that cases are not re-examined by the Internal Affairs Unit of the MPD; (3) expanded the CRA's scope of authority to include violations the MPD Policy and Procedures Manual; and (4) recommended pursuing avenues to obtain subpoena power for the CRA investigative process.

CP: Will these changes ever come to fruition and be implemented? What's the mood of the City Council on this issue?

MKB: Once the work leaves the CRA Taskforce, it will be up to the City Council to adopt, change, or reject the recommendations. Six members of the City Council--Council Members [Cam] Gordon, [Don] Samuels, [Robert] Lilligren, [Elizabeth] Glidden, [Ralph] Remington, and [Betsy] Hodges--serve on the task force. To this point, it is noteworthy that a majority of the work completed by the group was reached through discussion, debate and consensus. Thus, there is likely to be strong support from the Council as a whole to adopt these recommendations.

What is less clear is whether a majority of the Council will support making certain that the CRA Board retain its position as the final authority that determines the designation on police misconduct complaints filed with the CRA. Although there is pressure to revert that power to the police chief, Council Member Hodges is working on language that would retain that authority for the CRA.

Should City Council adopt the Hodges Motion, it would fall to the CRA Manager, the Civil Rights Department, the MPD, and ultimately the Mayor to ensure that the new ordinance and procedures are followed.

CP: This most recent CRA has been plagued by ineffectiveness. You have also written a report that was largely critical of the current state of the CRA. What, if anything, can be done? And what would you say to skeptics who say it's a lost cause?

MKB: Although the report identifies several challenges throughout the City's civilian oversight process, it also recommends a solution: create a CRA task force--convene key City stakeholders and experts from diverse backgrounds to work through the issues together.

I have seen an amazing amount of support and cooperation from the task force members, which is a strong indication that these new policies and procedures will bode well for the CRA's future.

In fact, I have already seen positive changes in the relationship between CRA and MPD as a result of implementation of some of the recommendations, and trust that the upward trend can and will continue, and extend to the community. Without a doubt, history has shown us that the struggle to strengthen civil rights is never a lost cause, and the improvement of this police accountability mechanism no exception.

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