Minneapolis is in the process of making all sorts of changes in its policing practices. The mayor has instituted a variety of reforms; the city attorney is negotiating with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) on a consent decree regarding police issues and the city council has approved Dr. Cedric Alexander as the head of a new mega-entity called the Office of Community Safety.
But with all this activity, there has been no consultation on any of these changes with the citizen advisory body that city officials themselves created to provide that kind of community input. Because it doesn’t have enough members to constitute a quorum, the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC), the volunteer, civilian oversight body that makes policy recommendations on police issues, has not met for the past four months and probably will not be meeting again in 2022.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and the city council are responsible for appointing people to the PCOC, but no appointments have been made since Dec. 18, 2020. Several two-year terms that began on Jan. 1, 2022, have gone unfilled, and six of the nine people who were on the PCOC as of January 2021 have since resigned. The city ordinance establishing the commission says that it “shall be comprised of a minimum of seven members.” The mayor and the council have ignored that requirement, and the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office has advised that since this is only an advisory body, those elected officials need not make appointments to fill open commission seats. In short, the word “shall” in the ordinance does not impose any legal obligation on those city officials who make – or, as it turns out, don’t make – these appointments. Ouch.
In October 2021, when the commission was down to six members, one below the ordinance-required minimum, PCOC members began asking city staff when new commissioners would be appointed. Civil Rights Department staff, to whom the mayor and the council have delegated the screening process for PCOC applicants, said new appointees probably would be in place by December 2021. In January 2022, commissioners were told by February; in February, by April; in April, by May. And every time, the reason for the delay seemed to change. The commission hasn’t asked since April, only because it hasn’t had enough members to meet since then.
Then, on Aug.15, Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins sent an email to her colleagues on the council, saying in part that these appointments had indeed been put on hold, “pending a reform of that oversight body.”
I too had been asking city officials for several months whether PCOC appointments had been put on hold, pending the outcome of the consent decree the city is negotiating with the MDHR. Just as happened with the inquiries by the Commissioners themselves, no Civil Rights Department staff person, no council member, no aide to any council member or to the mayor has ever said that these appointments had been put on hold. Either all of those people were out of the loop, or they were lying. This at a time when significant changes in policing are taking place, and when Minneapolis City officials proudly proclaim how transparent Minneapolis City government is.
Jenkins also mentioned in her email that the reforms in the PCOC were the first step in “a comprehensive review of all our boards and commissions.” Minneapolis City Council members are always free to rethink their boards and commissions. That is their prerogative. But while that rethinking is taking place, existing laws and ordinances must be followed. The City Attorney’s position is absurd. If anyone sues the city and obtains a court order to get the council and the mayor to make these appointments, the city is once again going to be publicly embarrassed – that is, if these officials are capable of being embarrassed – especially in the wake of the scathing critique of Minneapolis’ civilian oversight system contained in the Human Rights Department’s report.
Regrettably, when it comes to civilian oversight of the police, two years after the killing of George Floyd, Minneapolis city officials still don’t have their act together.
Chuck Turchick is a Minneapolis resident who has been following civilian oversight in the city since it was established in 1990.