But -- you know, some of the campaigns replied to me within a couple of hours. So I'm going to write this, and I'll post later if/when the rest ever get back to me.
A few days ago, the Star Tribune ran a piece about the Office of Police Conduct Review, which replaced the old Civilian Review Board. The CRB was replaced because they would recommend disciplinary actions for police misconduct, but had no power to actually enforce them, and I think that was supposed to be fixed by putting this new office into place, only in the last year there have been 439 complaints and 0 disciplinary actions taken against police officers. I will absolutely concede that of those 439, there were some completely bogus complaints. But you have to be seriously disconnected from reality to conclude that not one of those complaints was legit. (Nonetheless, plenty of people are, if you make the mistake of reading the comments on that Star Trib article.)
Policing in Minneapolis is a problem in all sorts of ways. The bad cops seem to be accountable to no one. How would mayoral candidates try to fix this, as mayor?
I started by asking candidates about this on their Facebook pages, because for one thing, it gives me a public response that I can link to. The question I asked most of them was, "What is your stance on a Civilian Review Board for the Minneapolis Police vs. the Office of Police Conduct Review that exists now? Do you think the current situation is satisfactory, and if not, how would you change it?"
Bob Fine got back to me promptly:
- Thanks for your question, Naomi. I was on the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission when the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) was established. Creating the CRA was a priority for the Commission and we had to work hard for years to get the City Council's approval to create it. However, the CRA never had the teeth necessary to exercise its power to thoroughly investigate accusations of police misconduct and recommend disciplinary actions. Most of the police officers in Minneapolis are doing their jobs well but we can't tolerate any unprofessional and unethical behavior. The Office of Police Conduct Review also needs strong teeth to be able to be effective in Minneapolis."
Which was a prompt answer, but not really an answer. I think what he's saying is that the problem is not that the OPCR isn't doing its job, but that it's not empowered to do its job effectively.
Dan Cohen also replied promptly. I can't figure out how to pull up just the conversation about this but you'll find it on his Facebook page. In response to the initial question, Dan said:
- Did you see the headline in today's Strib? There have been some 439 (I think I have the number right) disciplinary complaints in recent years against Minneapolis Police, and not a single one has been upheld. Now, I'm doing this from memory, Naomi, so it may not be accurate, but that's how I recall the article. Whether internal police review or external civilian review (which I believe was defunded a couple of years ago and no longer exists), both have been a total failure. We need a Mayor with the will to end racism in the department and it begins with a prompt review of the facts in the Green Bay and Apple Valley cases. And if they were found culpable, they should be fired on the spot. No institution in this country, much less a Police Department—which depends on the support and cooperation of the public—would have tolerated that behavior. Fired. On the spot. Your locker has been cleared out. Your stuff is on the sidewalk.
That is a fantastically unambiguous response but it's also kind of divorced from reality; the Police Federation insists that officers get due process. I pointed this out, and he said, "I believe that John Delmonico, the head of the police fed, has already publicly stated his displeasure with the cops involved in these incidents. I would have no objection to discussing the matter with him further, but so far as I am concerned, once the hearing was concluded and the videos and tapes showed what they appeared to show, I would dismiss these cops because I regard this as misconduct, and a disgrace to the department that could not be tolerated."
The officers were in fact placed immediately on leave pending investigation (so, you know -- hopefully they will be fired, but they're getting due process, not having their lockers cleaned out in absentia) and what Delmonico actually said was pretty carefully tactful, not "oh yeah, fire the bastards" but "there should be no place for bigots in MPD".
I guess what I would say is that Dan's heart is in the right place but his approach is that of someone who is in no danger of winning the election.
Jackie Cherryhomes replied promptly:
- Hi Naomi, thank you for asking. Here are my thoughts on the current state of Police conduct and restoring the Civilian Review Board, which was dismantled after I left office as City Council Member for the 5th Ward. Please see the following link: http://jackiecherryhomesformayor.com/ch
The article on Jackie's website is a good response, actually, and includes the comment, "These police incidents came just days after many Minneapolitans – I am guessing mostly white – publicly and privately voiced a heart-felt belief that 'Trayvon Martin couldn't happen here.' Unfortunately, the truth is beyond painful."
Something I hadn't realized until I started looking at candidate websites is that both Jackie Cherryhomes and Betsy Hodges are married to Black men. Jackie has a biracial teenage daughter; Betsy is a stepmother to a bunch of kids from her husband's first marriage. I will admit that even though I still think (in general) that she's made of evil, this does affect my willingness to take Jackie's stance seriously here.
I was trying to mostly restrict this to the candidates-who-might-plausibly-win but I also asked Christopher Robin Zimmerman for his thoughts because I like his Facebook page; also, I'm curious if there is a mainstream Libertarian solution to the issue of police misconduct. His reply:
- Like every candidate in this race, I have a real problem with stupid, racist cops, as well as cops who abuse their authority for seemingly no other reason than that they feel they can. That Star Tribune story says that 439 cases were alleged and 0 disciplinary measures resulted. It's kinda unfathomable - they can't ALL be made up or not serious enough to result in discipline. The story mentions 99 instances of "coaching" and we can hope that some improvement may come out of that, but I think everyone's (rightfully) skeptical at this point. The Council created the OPCR - do they also have oversight? Does the mayor? Honestly I don't know. The Chief makes a big play for "transparency" when she's on social media but I feel like there's a lot of missed opportunities for transparency here. Why can't we hear more about these complaints and the rationale for coaching vs. discipline vs. no action at all? Their website has covering last October through July...at least they attempt to break down 405 reports into a set of neat categories (and a series of graphs - some rather confusing - perhaps on purpose?), but I and probably lots of other folks would like to see something much more granular. And frequent! I hope once a year isn't the plan going forward! In addition to more transparency, we need more sunlight - the Chief's Citizen Board having their meeting behind closed doors drives people nuts. Do I have any actual new ideas to help here? ......not off the top of my head. I would probably need to get some help from other folks on that. Hope this is more helpful than frustrating! Let me know if I can expand or backtrack on anything I've said.
Christopher doesn't have a straightfoward solution to the problem here but his suggestions for increasing transparency are interesting ones. The good reason for closed-door meetings is to protect the privacy of the individuals complaining, although there are surely other ways to do that while allowing some sunlight into the process. And the report is interesting while also leaving me utterly baffled as to what the heck these "investigations" are even for if they literally NEVER result in discipline of anyone? It seems to be the more serious cases that get investigated; the lesser cases get referred back to the officer's supervisor for "coaching." The completely unsubstantiated stuff is getting dismissed out of hand. So....wtf, guys?
I also posted to the Facebook pages of Mark Andrew, Betsy Hodges, Don Samuels, and Cam Winton, and got no replies. I e-mailed all of them as well, and I want to talk about both the information I was able to find on their websites and Facebook pages, and what the process of e-mailing them was like.
Mark Andrew's website says nothing whatsoever about policing. I couldn't find anything on his Facebook page, and he didn't reply to the message I left there. Looking through other people's notes on his FB, I saw one from July from a guy named Ken Lawrence asking:
- I feel like I need far more specifics on how you intend to close gaps in educational opportunity and achievement, gaps in sentencing and incarceration and gaps in employment opportunity. The answers that you have given have been very generic. You have a great resume on green issues and glbt issues (marriage in particular). Yet, I need a sense of what you call human rights and how you would support and defend those rights for all citizens of Minneapolis. Please elaborate. Specifics would be greatly appreciated.
When Mark didn't reply, Ken posted a nudge, and Mark replied, "I'd love to discuss these issues with you further! May I send you a message so we can talk?" I posted a comment saying that I was disappointed he hadn't replied on the Facebook page, as I would have liked to see the responses, too. Ken came back to note, "I after I posted this question, Mark said that he would discuss these issues further and took the conversation into messages between us. When I asked him a series of detailed questions, he never got back to me."
...so apparently I am not alone.
I will say that when I visited Mark's website, under "Contact," I found an e-mail address for Mark. I e-mailed him my question ("I looked for information on your stance on this on your website and came up empty-handed. What is your stance on a Civilian Review Board for the Minneapolis Police vs. the Office of Police Conduct Review that exists now? Do you think the current situation is satisfactory, and if not, how would you change it?") and since that was only yesterday evening, I can't really hold it against him that he hasn't replied.
Betsy Hodges' website addresses this issue fairly specifically, in her big PDF of issues stuff. She thinks there ought to be a firewall between police conduct review and the police department, and the board needs more civilians on it. I decided to e-mail her for some more details.
Annoying things about the process of e-mailing Betsy:
1. The only option is a form. There is no e-mail address provided that I can just send an e-mail to (which then provides me with a record of what I sent, if I want to check it later.)
2. You're supposed to choose from the following list of categories:
...which does not include "questions about the candidate." I don't want to contribute, volunteer, or schedule an event. I'm not letting her know that a link is broken or complaining about the fact that she put all her substantive issue stuff into a PDF instead of a regular web page. That leaves "General Comments," which, I mean, OK. But it's not a comment, it's a question. I'm sorry to sound pedantic about this, but being told to categorize something and then not being given the correct category is one of the banes of modern life, and really, why didn't anyone on the campaign realize that when people are faced with 35 candidates (eight or nine of them reasonably plausible) they might want to contact the campaign to ask some specific questions about issues of concern for them? Am I the ONLY person who's ever done this?
3. "Spam me and badger me for money" is checked by default. (Oh, I'm sorry. That would be, "Get updates and news from the campaign," but I like my version better.
Anyway, I used the form. I UN-CHECKED "spam me" and didn't give them my phone number (oh, would I ever be extra, extra annoyed if that had been a mandatory field. We finally got OFF most of the political phone bank lists when we moved, although it's only a matter of time before we get back on them.) No reply yet, but again, to be fair, I only did this last night.
Cam Winton's website talks about policing mostly in the context of hiring more police. On his Facebook page, though, he has a shared photo with a long excerpt from a the MPR debate, where he got asked about police misconduct. There are two very specific things that he mentioned: he wants to "make each officer not only empowered but also obligated to help root out bad behavior," and the other was that he wants to require officers to wear cameras. (Squad cars are all already camera-equipped.)
I have mixed feelings about the camera thing, and some of it is empathy for the cops. I don't like the message that if you have nothing to hide, you should be okay with cameras watching you all day, every day, wherever you are. I also recognize the value in any high-stress occupation of banter that might not sound good to an outsider reviewing the tape later -- although given that all squad cars have cameras, that ship has sailed. The bottom line is that this would probably cut down significantly on police misconduct, and the police in Minneapolis have committed enough misconduct (even if it's a small minority of the individual cops) that they've brought this on themselves.
That still leaves a lot of questions, like, okay, let's say you have camera-provided evidence of excessive force; how do you ensure that something is done with that information? I wanted to e-mail to ask, so I visited Cam's "Contact" page.....and found no contact address for Cam at all. SERIOUSLY. They list addresses for the Campaign Chair, Press Secretary, Treasurer, Campaign Manager, and Assistant Campaign Manager....but not the candidate.
Look. If this is how you interact with citizens when you are running for office, how unresponsive are you going to be when you actually get elected Mayor?
I e-mailed the Press Secretary and said I was a blogger. We'll see.
Finally, Don Samuels' website talks about this issue a bit. In his Public Safety document, he lists as an accomplishment, "Reform broken Civilian Review Authority to ensure cases reach a resolution." Later in the document he describes the incident in Green Bay, adding, "That's why I immediately called for the resignation of the two officers involved in the Green Bay incident. I was the only Council Member and the only candidate for Mayor to call for their resignations, and I believe that is what is needed in leadership. When the evidence is clear: leaders must lead. As a candidate for Mayor, I can promise that I will call out any problem officers who are unfit to serve. I can guarantee a strong, unequivocal response that makes clear the values and expectations of city workers, especially those with as much authority as police officers."
My first instinct here is to snark. He immediately called for their resignation, unlike some other candidates for mayor.....who called for them to be immediately fired. When he's Mayor, he promises to loudly posture any time our police embarrass our city!
In the larger context of his public safety stances, it's worth comparing this to his idea about approaching the six families responsible for disproportionate crime. Don's approach is very personal and talking with people is central; I think on some level he believes that ALL problems can be solved in this one-to-one, personal sort of way.
I don't think this is a sound approach when we're talking about institutional problems like a city Police Force that closes blue ranks around bullies and racists. You need an institutional response, and the one we've put together isn't working any better than the institutional response it replaced. So...now what? I e-mailed Don for more information (he has a generic e-mail on his contact-us page, info@whatever, that I used.) He hasn't replied to me yet but I actually overlooked him when sending out the e-mails last night so I really can't hold that against him yet. (It's embarrassing to have forgotten a major candidate. I should probably print out a checklist to use for this sort of thing, because keeping track of this many people in my head is a lost cause.)
I didn't bother with Stephanie Woodruff because her website already irritated me so thoroughly.
I'll get back to you later about whether Betsy, Mark, Don, and Cam respond to my e-mail at some point.
Election of 2013 Index of Posts