As Minneapolis DFLers go to pick their preferred candidate for mayor at the city endorsing convention Saturday, one major issue dividing contenders is how the city should handle allegations of police misconduct.
The death of Terrance Franklin, 22, has sparked repeated protests in downtown Minneapolis. Franklin was shot and killed May 10 during an altercation with police in the basement of a house in uptown Minneapolis. Two officers were shot and wounded in the incident. The police department has completed its investigation, and the Hennepin County Attorney's office is asking a grand jury to determine whether the evidence supports a criminal prosecution. Authorities have released few other details.
Mayoral candidate Mark Andrew said the Minneapolis Police Department owes the public an explanation of what happened.
"It's a deplorable situation that we have, not only with the Franklin case, but many other cases past," Andrew said.
From 2006 through the end of last year, Minneapolis paid out more than 115 settlements in cases of alleged police misconduct. Andrew says those settlements, totaling almost $14 million, indicate there is a problem in the police department.
|Minneapolis payouts for claims/lawsuits alleging police misconduct|
|Source: City of Minneapolis|
"I think it is not excusable that we have had so many lawsuits and that the payouts have been so high," he said.
Andrew said Minneapolis made a mistake last year when the city overhauled its process for investigating complaints against police.
Jackie Cherryhomes, who is also seeking the DFL mayoral endorsement, agrees. She was a member of the Minneapolis City Council in 1991 when the city first created a process for civilians to review allegations of police misconduct.
"I was there in the council chambers that day voting on that, the day the cops sat there with us. They came marching in, and they sat down, and on those wooden benches, each gun banged as they sat down," Cherryhomes said. "We absolutely have to have a Civilian Review Authority that has subpoena power, that has power, and where the police chief is not the deciding vote."
"The Civilian Review Authority was not dismantled," said City Councilmember Don Samuels, also running for mayor, who led the charge to create a new system for civilians and police internal affairs officers to investigate complaints together.
"Instead of making decisions as civilians and sending it to the police department to make decisions about discipline, let them sit together and talk it out, so the incompatibilities get thrashed out at the table," Samuels said. "The other thing was not working, and the community was frustrated."
The new Office of Police Conduct Review opened in September.
Since then, the office has completed review of more than 200 cases. About a third of those were referred to supervisors in the department who were instructed to "coach" the officers involved. Fourteen cases were found serious enough to warrant a full investigation, and of those, six were determined to have merit.
|Cases to date handled by the new Office of Police Conduct Review (est. Sept. 29, 2012)|
|Cases handled by OPCR: 391|
Cases closed by OPCR: 236
Cases sent for coaching: 71
Potentially serious cases investigated: 14
Number of those determined to have merit: 6
Cases resulting in discipline: 0 (1 still pending)
Source: Minneapolis Dept. of Civil Rights, Minneapolis Police Dept.
But only the chief of police has the authority to discipline officers. So far, none of the cases has resulted in discipline. Police Chief Janee Harteau said several were both relatively minor and too old to be actionable.
"It would be similar to me as a parent trying to punish my daughter for something she did two years ago," Harteau said. "It loses its effect and may not change her behavior."
The old cases were part of a dwindling backlog left over from the Civilian Review Authority. The new system is an improvement, Harteau said, and she gives weight to the recommendations of the investigators. Discipline is pending in one case.
As a city councilmember, mayoral candidate Betsy Hodges voted against the new system, but she also says there is no going back to the old system.
"The Police Federation went to the state government and gutted the law that existed that allowed for our civilian oversight the way it had been. In the absence of changing that law, we have to find a better way to have civilian oversight in the city."
Councilmember Gary Schiff agrees state law is an impediment to police accountability. He also said the city's charter prevents the city council from setting the department's use of force policy. If elected mayor, Schiff said he would try to change that.