What is the history of police accountability in Minneapolis?


For much of its existence, the Minneapolis Police Department has handled community member complaints through its Internal Affairs Unit (IAU). Although the IAU has a record of some firings, none have been the result of complaints from the public. Reporting misconduct to the IAU has been known to backfire on a complainant in the form of retaliation by police, a well-documented phenomenon.

Following a botched drug raid in 1989, led by Lt. Mike Sauro, the public demanded a civilian board to oversee the Minneapolis Police Department. An elderly black couple perished in a fire when police raided the wrong address. A riot nearly ensued, and it became clear that Minneapolis needed a civilian oversight board. This was the beginning of the Civilian Review Authority (CRA). Right from the start, the city deliberately hobbled the CRA by underfunding and understaffing it. In addition, it lacked subpoena power and could only recommend discipline, rather than issue it. Perhaps the most daunting problem was the refusal of the police chief to actually discipline complaints sustained by the CRA. This led to a very poor record of discipline and officers refused to change their behaviors because they faced no consequences for misconduct.

The CRA stumbled along and went through several overhauls when, in 2002, the US Department of Justice was called in to mediate the problem between Minneapolis residents and their police department. This effort was sabotaged by people in the city's leadership. Meanwhile, the CRA continued in a minimal way.  It was widely regarded as inadequate and overseen solely by those with a clear bias toward insulating officers from accountability for their actions.

The city then shut down the CRA in 2012, replacing it with the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR), which is completely under the control of city employees and the police department and is even more ineffective than the CRA. Since its creation, the OPCR has processed over 1300 complaints and has not disciplined even one officer for misconduct as a result of a complaint filed by a community member—only those filed by other officers or through the IAU of the Minneapolis Police Department.

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