Governance
Written by Tom Steward | December 12, 2016

Why Did St. Paul Kick Cops Off Review Board?

crowdSt. Paul cops have always been outranked on the city’s Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission. The review board for investigating complaints of police misconduct has been comprised of five civilian representatives and two officers since its inception two decades ago.

But now St. Paul City Councilors have caved to pressure from an overflow crowd at City Hall with media reporting police were voted off the review board and will no longer be involved in the process. Apparently that wasn’t the plan going into the December 7 city council meeting.

The city council was moving toward keeping officers on the commission, but some were swayed by an outpouring of community members who supported a civilian-only panel.

Wednesday’s council meeting was standing-room-only with people holding signs, such as “Listen to the people.” The St. Paul Police Federation advocated for officers to stay on the panel, and officers attended the meeting wearing federation shirts.

“I want to thank all the community members and leaders for advocating and coming down and making sure that all the council members vote right this time,” said council member Dai Thao, who supported removing officers from the commission from the beginning. “… This is a civilian process that would ensure the transparency and trust of the community. It’s the right thing to do.”

In fact, St. Paul pols doubled down and further stacked the deck by adding four additional slots on the review board for civilians. St. Paul police officials called the decision “tragic” and just the latest example of city leaders not having the cops’ backs.

Dave Titus, St. Paul police union president, said he believes the mayor and the majority of council members turned their backs on officers.

“The Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission has served the City with a fair, accountable, and just process for more than 20 years,” Titus said in a statement. “… The decision to throw this away by making change for political reasons represents a complete and tragic disregard for our great officers who put their lives on the line every day. It boggles my mind, that the mayor and council believe the actions of officers should be judged by those less knowledgeable on the policies and procedures with zero input from actual subject-matter experts — street cops.”

In doing so, the city adopted the recommendation of the University of Minnesota Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. But isn’t having no cops on a police review board like having no doctors on a medical review board?

Several people told the council that officers were a necessary part of the commission.

“Without the patrol point of view, commissioners would be making decisions without vital information,” said St. Paul police officer Ed Dion, who serves on the review panel.

At the city council’s last public hearing on the commission, council members voted down amendments to remove officers or make them non-voting members. But St. Paul residents and at least 18 community organizations have been calling on council members to make it an independent, all-civilian commission.

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