Does Minneapolis need another police advisory board?

Council president, police watchdog board chair question Frey’s plan for more

By: - November 10, 2021 7:00 am

A Minneapolis police squad car in front of the burned out Third Precinct police station blocks off Minneahaha Avenue for a street festival in October 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey plans to unveil new commissions made up of community leaders and experts to provide recommendations on policing and public safety, but some question the need when several have already been set up, only to fade away or be ignored. 

In a statement to the Reformer, Frey’s office said he will convene “community leaders and subject matter experts to develop forward-looking violence prevention, policy reform, and community safety recommendations on behalf of his administration.”

​​Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said after Floyd’s killing, Frey set up a public safety policy transformation task force, with three advisory groups, but she hasn’t heard anything out of them since. 

“To be clear, the mayor did not invite me to participate in his transforming public safety groups,” she said.

The mayor’s office responded that the Office of Violence Prevention has been leading this work and is best suited to provide a status update of the project, which is jointly overseen by the mayor and City Council.

The chair of a police watchdog board also questions the need for more public safety boards, especially when her board has had trouble filling vacancies and getting questions answered. 

Abigail Cerra, chair of Minneapolis’ Police Conduct Oversight Commission, said Frey already has a commission to advise him on public safety: Hers. 

Established by city ordinance in 2012, the PCOC replaced the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority in the hope that it could more effectively oversee police and make policy recommendations with public input. It analyzes data and policies and provides advice to the mayor and City Council.

But city officials and the police often snub the commission, Cerra said. She has repeatedly invited the mayor and his staff to speak at the PCOC meetings, including after his re-election last week, but “I’ve had radio silence,” she said.

Cerra said getting information from city officials is “like pulling teeth.” The commission has requested 10 arbitration decisions since April, and hasn’t received all of them. 

Frey’s office responded by saying it is regularly involved in PCOC meetings — with his senior public safety policy aide attending meetings — and has received Cerra’s input regarding coaching, and “addressed that input thoroughly with her.”  

“If there are other recommendations from the PCOC, we will be happy to consider them,” a spokesperson for the office said.

Cerra said while an aide does attend meetings, Frey and his people won’t answer her questions about coaching, and Frey said they won’t respond to any of the research her commission has done on issues such as nuisance misdemeanors and traffic stops. 

“I think it’s kind of shady that the mayor’s going to have his own special team to advise him when the PCOC advises the mayor and the council — I don’t know, it seems weird to me,” she said.

Frey’s office said the PCOC work is separate — their role is to engage the community in discussions about policing, review data related to research and closed case summaries, lead outreach and training resulting, and recommend policies and internal controls to city officials. 

The group Frey plans to convene will develop recommendations on behalf of his administration “for the current challenges facing Minneapolis.” 

The City Council and mayor have been slow to fill PCOC vacancies, to the point where last fall there weren’t enough members to get a quorum and hold meetings for a quarter of the year, even as the city was reeling from George Floyd’s killing by police.

Back then, City Clerk Casey Carl said appointments to many boards were being delayed due to the pandemic and civil unrest. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The PCOC is still short three people, but has enough members to meet, Cerra said.

Even though the City Council made the PCOC one of its “pillars” of public safety, she said it doesn’t engage with the commission.

Bender disputed that characterization, saying she talks to Cerra frequently. She said there’s been a lot of debate between Cerra and city officials about the role of the PCOC. In the past, the board’s scope was more narrowly focused on overseeing police behavior. 

Bender thinks it’s a good idea for the board to have a seat at the table for more general public safety discussions. 

“It seems clear that the police oversight functions of the city are not working as well as they should be,” she said. 

Cerra is all in favor of engaging the community, she said, but having more boards and commissions isn’t the answer.

“How much more input does the mayor really need at this point?” she said. “He’s got information; what we need at this point is some action moving forward… do we need more boards and commissions two years after Derek Chauvin committed murder?”

Frey was re-elected last week, and will be working with a council composed of six incumbents and seven newcomers — including three democratic socialists. 

Cerra said there’s no limit to the number of PCOC members, so Frey could “pack it” with his nominees if he wants. 

“There’s room for everybody on the PCOC,” she said. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.