On Proposed Changes to Saint Paul's Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission

View of Saint Paul skyline

From a Dec. 12, 2016 Pioneer Press column

In its December 1 editorial, the Pioneer Press acknowledged the “charged climate” in which the Saint Paul City Council was deciding on the make-up of the members of the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission (PCIARC). The Editorial Board drew the conclusion that this climate requires balance – which they defined as including street cops on the civilian advisory body to the Saint Paul Police Chief regarding matters of police discipline in cases of excessive force. I would offer that this charged climate also requires transparency and accountability in order to strengthen and rebuild the relationship between the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) and the community. To that end I write in support of the City Council’s actions on December 7 that amended the ordinance to remove police officers and create a citizen controlled advisory committee of nine residents.

After the University of Minnesota Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking completed the audit of the PCIARC in 2015, the Mayor’s office wanted to gather community input on the audit recommendations. Mayor Chris Coleman knew that not only did residents need an opportunity to give feedback; they also needed an opportunity to talk about police community relations. His office reached out to The Saint Paul Foundation and asked for help convening three gatherings featuring healing circles to solicit input from community members. We were pleased to support that request acknowledging that a quality engagement experience is as valuable as the outcome of the process.

Through January and February of this year, neighbors came together in the Rondo, East Side and West Side communities to talk with each other about their experiences and react to the audit recommendations for evolving the PCIARC. The circle work yielded rich stories of gratitude for the guardians of our community, the SPPD. And, as expected, there were also stories about past negative interactions with members of the SPPD. Participants were asked to rank issues and a majority of them prioritized the audit recommendation to remove police officers from the review commission. Participants perceived a conflict of interest of peers sitting in judgement over peers or police protecting other police officers.

We saw many of those same stories and opinions shared at the two public hearings that took place on November 26 and December 7. Community members from all wards and diverse races and ethnicities implored the City Council to hear their frustration and to create a space where any claims of mistreatment by police officers could be reviewed by other residents – absent police officers. I commend the City Councilmembers who were moved by the outpouring of testimony and had the courage to rethink previous positions.

As the Council approaches the December 14 final vote on the ordinance, I encourage them to remain steadfast. Under their current proposal, the PCIARC deliberations will be only civilian citizens reviewing another resident’s claim of police mistreatment and the related investigation file. This panel’s work is only one step in a process bookended by SPPD at both the beginning and end. It comes after the police complete the investigation into the allegations and before the police Chief makes a final decision on discipline. In this, there is balance that includes SPPD and assures a new transparency of civilian control. It is a welcome breath in the police review process – a breath that will bring new energy to the relationship between police officers and residents as we work to re-charge the climate of our community.

- Eric J. Jolly, Ph.D., President and CEO, The Saint Paul and Minnesota Community Foundations

Portrait photo of President and CEO Eric J. Jolly, Ph.D.

More from the blog