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Officer conduct review system works, MPD insists, despite critics

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The Minneapolis police civilian conduct review process turned two years old this month, and the department says it has streamlined the process for investigating complaints against officers.

Some critics say the system has failed to hold law enforcement accountable for bad behavior, however.

According to city statistics, out of almost 800 complaints filed between Oct. 2012 and Sept. 30, 2014, most were resolved or dismissed before they reached Police Chief Janee Harteau's desk. In that time, Harteau suspended six officers, issued three written reprimands and sent seven of those officers' complaints to their supervisors for coaching.

"My goal isn't to necessarily discipline people, it's to correct behavior, so discipline is not necessary," Harteau said at a community meeting on Tuesday.  "But I'm also a realist and discipline is always going to be a part of my job.  And it has to be a part of an organization when you deal with human beings." 

The director of the city's new review system, Michael Browne, said the previous program was plagued by backlogs. Measured against that, he touted the the new program's success in quickly investigating and resolving complaints.

"I think that if you're going to look at some of the major takeaways in the last two years is the ability we've had now to set up a process that is going to flow - cases are going to flow all the way through to the chief's office much more directly than they had in the past," he said.

The new process includes a triage function which separates allegations of minor offenses from more serious ones, Browne said. Minor offenses go immediately to an officer's supervisor for 'coaching.' Allegations of excessive force or other infractions go through the investigative process.

According to data from the city, the most common civilian complaints contain allegations that officers used foul language or were disrespectful.  Some critics of the department, like Chuck Turchick, said coaching doesn't seem to be an effective remedy for that. 

"Frequently, the complaints are the officer used bad language," he said of the often-redacted complaints made public by a branch of the civilian oversight group. "One of them is, the officer rolled his eyes when I said something. It's just a matter of common respect."

Some audience members at a forum Tuesday night also told Harteau and Mayor Betsy Hodges that they experienced a lack of respect on the part of certain police officers. Around 200 people gathered in a north Minneapolis church to participate in the city-sponsored meeting. A few said they filed complaints that were never resolved.

"This new agency, which was really meant to insert police into what should be a public function, or a civilian function, basically, is not working.  It is a waste of money," said Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality. "It is a waste of time. You've heard from numerous people saying they've made complaints to no end."

Mayor Hodges responded that she's skeptical of the new civilian review system.  But she's willing to give it more time to work.