The City of Minneapolis has paid out more than $15 million in the last six years for lawsuits alleging police misconduct. In a one-two punch that will mean the end of the Minneapolis Police Civilian Review Authority (CRA), the Minneapolis City Council and the Minnesota State Legislature are currently taking steps that will likely see that amount increase as victims of police misconduct are left with little choice but to file similar lawsuits if they are to expect any meaningful independent oversight.
The CRA, established to provide independent civilian oversight of police officers who abuse their power, has seen itself gutted over recent years by an effort led by the union representing Minneapolis police officers. Facing nearly no public backlash for doing so, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan has almost-wholly dismissed factual findings made by the CRA that would require officers to be disciplined for sustained allegations. In the latest CRA report, for example, Chief Dolan ignored 85% of the sustained allegations when considering whether to impose discipline.
Yesterday, a new law became effective that will now relegate the factual findings of Minneapolis CRA investigations to simple recommendations. Although Chief Dolan has already essentially ignored the CRA’s findings, prior to August 1, the CRA’s factual determinations would at least be mandatorily contained in an officer’s personnel file. The new law eradicates that last bit of teeth that was left in CRA findings.
A concerted effort by the Minneapolis police union, Velma Korbel and Susan Segal has led to a currently proposed overhaul (see also: Star Tribune) that will prove to be the final nail in the CRA coffin. The proposed changes will destroy the concept of civilian review by closing the CRA office, requiring that police officers sit on the review panels, and giving victims of police misconduct no choice but to have their complaint against Minneapolis police subject to investigation solely by other Minneapolis police.
These combined changes spell the end of any meaningful citizen oversight (outside of litigation) of the Minneapolis Police Department. For a department that has been plagued with wrongdoings by its officers (See, for example: Metro Gang Strike Force, Sherry Appledorn & Joe Will, Beating of Derryl Jenkins, Shooting Death of Dominic Felder, David Clifford, Timothy Carson), these changes to the CRA may likely mean an uptick in the number of excessive force and police misconduct lawsuits, where attorney-fee statutes allow for the plaintiff to proceed without being forced to spend exorbitant amounts on legal fees.
Joshua Newville is an attorney and mediator based in Minnesota. He litigates employment and civil rights cases, serves as a mediator for civil disputes, and provides employment law advice.