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Police probably won't be allowed on St. Paul's police review board anymore

The group that handles complaints against police officers would no longer have police officers on it.

Police officers will probably no longer have a spot on St. Paul's police review board – the group of people that reviews complaints against officers and offers suggestions on what to do. Instead, it'll likely be made up entirely of civilians.

Here's the rundown.

What happened

The St. Paul City Council approved an amendment Wednesday night that would make the Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission all civilians. There will be a final vote at the next council meeting (Dec. 14) to fully approve and implement the change.

Right now, the commission is made up of seven members, all residents of St. Paul. Two of them are required to be sworn police officers. The five citizen commissioners are appointed by the mayor, and approved by the city council, and can't have direct ties to the police department.

All complaints against officers and other possible improper acts are reviewed by the commission, which then sends its recommendation on what discipline – if any – should be handed down. The chief of police then has the authority to accept it, negotiate a different discipline, or decline the recommendation.

Mayor Chris Coleman had asked the University of Minnesota's Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking to review the commission, and make recommendations on what (if anything) might need to be changed.

How it will be different

The two police officers that are required to be on the commission would no longer be a part of it, under Councilmember Dai Thao's amendment.

Instead, the commission would grow to nine people total, and all of them would be civilians. Nobody that's part of the St. Paul Police Federation, or anyone directly related to a member, will be allowed to serve on the council.

All of the members would be recommended by the Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity, and the mayor would then appoint them.

As for discipline, it would be handled the same way – the commission makes a recommendation, which then goes to the police chief.

The reaction

A number of groups – including the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Take Action MN, and the Summit-University Planning Council – had come out strongly in support of removing police officers from the review board. They argued that having officers on the review board, essentially investigating their own department's possible misconduct, was a conflict of interest and hurt the public's trust in the department.

The police federation isn't happy.

In a statement, President Dave Titus lambasted the decision.

"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," he said, later adding: "Mayor Coleman and the council majority have created something that is no better than a kangaroo court intent on getting cops."

The Pioneer Press reports Dan Bostrom – one of the two councilmembers to vote against the amendment – said civilians can never understand the quick decisions that come in the heat of the moment that a police officer has to consider.

Update: Mayor Coleman weighed in Thursday afternoon, saying he's happy that the city and leaders had a lot of conversation about this, and came to a thoughtful decision. But he also noted the plan changed over the course of the discussion. He'd suggested having seven civilians, plus two officers who were at least the rank of commander. A couple weeks ago, councilmembers nixed the second part – so it'd be seven civilians, and two officers of any rank.

Wednesday night, things changed again, and the councilmembers voted to do away with officers on the commission altogether.

“I understand this is an intensely personal issue for everyone who felt compelled to come forward and express their point of view. I want to reassure everyone in the community that as we move to implement the Council's decision on this matter, I am going to work very closely with the community – including police officers – to ensure confidence in the civilian review process," Coleman said in the statement.

The review board in 2015

In 2015, the Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission said it reviewed 27 total cases, amounting to 62 different charges of improper action.

Of those, 31 were not sustained – meaning there wasn't enough evidence to prove or disprove what happened. Fourteen were sustained, so there was enough evidence of the complaint to reasonably conclude guilt.

Nine resulted in an exoneration (the incident happened, but it was lawful), and one was labeled a policy failure (meaning the officer followed the instructions, but those instructions were bad).

The commission also went over 22 uses of a firearm, and concluded all were justified.

It meets once a month to go over cases, which are generally closed to the public because of data privacy laws. The members also occasionally hold public feedback meetings.

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