Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Fear And Loathing At City Hall, An Abandoned Fiberglass Bathtub In An Alley And More Body Cameras Than You Can Shake A Stick At...Welcome To The June, 2015 Meeting Of PCOC!

Since this photo was published on a blog operated by the
City of Minneapolis, click here for link, I assert this photo
is a public document in the public domain, but in any case
it would also be used under Fair Comment and Criticism,
blog post by John Hoff

No Justice, No Peacock 

Nobody I know says "peacock" for PCOC, the Police Conduct Oversight Commission of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. Which is a shame, because a peacock comes in many colors but has a beautiful unified symmetry...kind of like the PCOC. The citizens on this commission know how serious, how hotly political their task is (their narrow, oh-so-ordinance-limited and strictly defined police conduct oversight task) and I think the PCOC handles it pretty well, considering every meeting features a room full of shrill critics and dubious doubters with an axe to grind against anything in a blue shirt... 

Tonight's meeting (and you can read all about it from the very blog post where I swiped the photo, above) featured both Mayor Hodges and Police Chief Harteau. I never saw Hodges and Harteau speak to each other at the meeting...simply my observation, do with it what you will. 

Body, Meet Camera, Crazy Parade, Meet Sedation 

The main feature on the agenda...the star attraction, the entree, if you will...was the topic of police body cameras. Mayor Hodges and other powers that be want the police to have body cameras, I think that's a fair summary, and in a lot of ways the police are questioning or even resisting the implementation, also a fair summary. The same-old-faces crowd of police critics who speak at almost every PCOC meeting, and try to pass themselves off as representatives of "the public" are pretty gung-ho about body cameras and would have the cameras surgically implanted in the bleeding cerebral cortexes of police officers, were such a thing possible. (And Michelle Gross claims to be a nurse, so I'm sure she'd love to slap on some rubber gloves and give it a go!) 

Sometimes it's interesting to listen to Chuck Turchick, et al, spewing their anti-police rhetoric like red confetti at a Russian May Day parade, but at this particular meeting Chuck and the entire crazy parade seemed to be marching in place, mildly sedated. Their comments during "rock the open mike" have become so focused upon arcane procedural banalities concerning the PCOC that listening to their banter about bureaucracy is like shooting Haldol directly into your eyeballs. 

What did he say? (Desperately struggling to stay awake and keep eyes open)

I literally can't remember one thing Chuck or the rest of the "cray squared" said to the commission except, well, as always Chuck spent the first of his few precious minutes complaining about not being able to speak when he wanted to speak...that is to say, not being allowed to get up at the beginning of the meeting and filibuster while the Mayor and Chief of Police have to endure not only Chuck's fossilized hippy blither-blather but, well, being in the same room with each other, raaaawwrrrrrr. 

Though oddly enough, me and Chuck were in rare agreement over something. We agreed citizens giving input to the PCOC about the implementation of police body cameras should be allowed to submit email comments, and not merely submit comments by getting up to a podium at community meetings and speaking. (Excuse me, I'm slapping myself to stay awake after typing that last sentence) Yup, turns out me and Chuck agree on something. To celebrate this miracle I tried to offer Chuck a chocolate cookie somebody gave me, since I'm on a diet. 

Chuck didn't want it. He thought it looked crumbly. 

"I know Dave Bicking wants a cookie," I said, looking at Dave Bicking, who...looked like he wanted a cookie. But Dave claimed he didn't want my cookie. 


Later I told a high-ranking police officer it was probably the first time, ever, that hippy Chuck Turchick refused a cookie from a stranger...because of not knowing what might be in the cookie. 

Nuts, Meet Nut Jobs 

I signed up for a shot at the open mike since it's cheaper than a $5 meeting of Toastmasters, though I must say Toastmasters have outstanding refreshments...at least the meetings I've attended in Minneapolis. But at least I had my unwanted orphan cookie stashed away in a cargo pocket, for later. 

What I said to the PCOC, in summary, based upon my memory and my handwritten notes: 

First, I made an observation about the police officer in "Case Number 9," a matter previously discussed by the commission. The officer in question had (horrors!) told a citizen to more or less shut his big yap and move on. This was construed as rude, unprofessional, and less than sympathetic to the poor, downtrodden proletariat.  

To this I responded what's the deal? Are citizens supposed to be able to get on a soap box and filibuster indefinitely, and at no point are the police allowed to tell them to "cease speaking" and go on about their business? I pointed out Chuck Turchick, the previous speaker, had spoken six or seven minutes. But if I were to drone on, endlessly, at some point I would be told, politely, to cease speaking, wouldn't I? Would that be impolite? Unprofessional? Is a person supposed to drone on forever, or does there come a point you can tell that person to assume a submissive posture, stop talking, and go away? 

And this order to "cease your speaking" would happen in this nice, calm city committee room with a chairperson in charge. Well, what about when police are in a bar littered with broken glass, or an alley? At what point are police just allowed to tell a citizen it's time to stop talking and move along? 

(An aside to readers: these are the kind of complaints police have to endure. Pure crap! Another of the complaints concerned a man who want to a police precinct wanting to file a report he'd been "sexually harassed." A civil matter, don't you agree? And when the officer at the front desk of the precinct was less than perfectly accommodating to this PAINFULLY OBVIOUS NUT BAG, the nut bag in question demanded the officer's badge number and filed a complaint! I tell you,  if you shook out the whole sack full of complaints placed in front of that commission, you'd have enough nuts to get you through a nutcracker Christmas. In fact, even Dave Bicking was recently quoted as follows: 

Sure, some complainants don't understand what police can lawfully do, some embellish, some bear some fault themselves, and a few are just wacko.

And that, dear readers, is the ringmaster of the crazy circus commenting upon the character of the audience who just bought tickets to the show!)

Bad, Meet Apples 

I then took up the topic of police body cameras, hundreds of which will soon be unleashed upon citizens. For the purpose of catching a few "bad apples," who supposedly exist in the department, it is now proposed that hundreds of cameras be unleashed upon citizens? Why? To catch the "bad apples?" Where are these squishy bad apples I keep hearing about? Supposedly if we videotape and wiretap every police officer, then surely we will catch the "bad apples" being bad! 

Keep in mind the body cameras aren't pointed toward the cops. They're pointed toward the citizens.  It's just as accurate to call them "24 Hour Up Close Citizen Surveillance Cameras" as to call them "police body cameras." I asked what happens when a policeman arrives at the home of a citizen and that citizen wants help, but doesn't want a video camera parading through their house, recording everything, all to be scrutinized by Child Protective Services (Good Heavens, COOKIE CRUMBS IN THE CARPET!!!) or whoever?

What happens when a citizen says, "Look officer, I want to talk to you but I don't want everything on videotape"? Will officers be allowed to switch off the camera? Or will that require a lot of procedure and getting permission? 

What happens, I asked, when police record a citizen battered, bruised and bleeding and the best evidence of what happened is that officer's recording? Will the citizen who suffered the injuries be able to get a copy of the recording? Or will they have to jump through all sorts of procedural hoops? 

Fiberglass Bathtub, Meet Alley 

I know very well, I said, that ordinary citizens won't be empowered with that camera data but it will stay in the hands of the government. I know that because of what already happens in North Minneapolis. We have many cameras on poles and those cameras record data all the time. But not one citizen in the neighborhood has access to the data. 

Consider what happened with my neighbor a couple weeks ago. Somebody dumped a fiberglass bathtub in the alley. And this man, who is disabled and recovering from severe brain injuries, had to deal with this oversized abandoned bathtub. He called 311 and was told nothing could be done, it was his problem. But we know very well police surveillance cameras probably recorded a truck with a gigantic bathtub, and that truck would have been on certain streets at certain points in time. IF A CITIZEN COULD COMB THROUGH THE CAMERA DATA, that citizen could solve the petty crimes which victimize all of us. And who is motivated to solve a crime more than the victim? Give us the tools we need! Give us access to those cameras! 

Clearly, the police don't have hours and hours to comb through camera data to solve very minor crimes. It's tough enough when trying to solve a murder. But if citizens had access, we could solve our own problems. Do we have such camera access? We do not. And now you propose to unleash hundreds more cameras! When will citizens have the power of all those government cameras in THEIR hands? To solve petty crimes we are told, day after day, we must just live with and endure? 

I concluded by saying there are people who apparently have an axe to grind with police officers and they constantly speak to this commission. But as a homeowner in the toughest Minneapolis neighborhood, I wished to make the record as follows: God Bless the Minneapolis Police Department. God bless the Fourth Precinct. God bless the offices who protect our lives.


And A Good Time Was Had By All

Afterward, certain individuals told me I needed to appear at the commission more often to help put sparky brakes upon the rattlin' crazy train, specifically those who have passed themselves off as the voice of the public on topics of police conduct. (Turchick, cough cough, Bicking, cough cough) 

I said I might. I just might attend more PCOC meetings in the future. 


Anonymous said...

Hi, John. Thanks for your thoughtful comments on body cams. The legislature is weighing in on the privacy issues related to body cams. Overall I support body cams. Time will tell whether they bring about an inordinate amount of problems. Hope you're doing well and thanks to the service you've given Minneapolis. Hope you'll not be forever departed.

Chuck Turchick said...

Since Mr. Hoff didn't remember a word I said at this meeting, I thought I'd post here my "anti-police rhetoric." It's in the form of an email I sent to Mayor Hodges, Chief Harteau, and Deputy Chiefs Arradondo and Glampe the day after the meeting. It explains how the time of public comment became an issue. something Mr. Hoff would have known had he ever attended a previous PCOC meeting, or of he had simply gone online to read the minutes of the PCOC's May meeting. But apparently vitriol is so much easier. Since my comment is too long for a single post, I'll break it into parts.

Chuck Turchick

Chuck Turchick said...

Dear Mayor Hodges, Chief Harteau, and Deputy Chiefs Glampe and Arradondo,

At the May 11, 2015, meeting of the PCOC, Chair Andrea Brown noted that "[h]aving public comments at the end of each PCOC meeting is neither efficient nor effective. Many times public comments are not being heard by the people who need to hear them, such [as] the MPD and guest speakers because presenters leave right after their presentation and before the public comments section" (from the May minutes of the PCOC, not direct quotes from Chair Brown).

Since the PCOC rules give sole power for proposing the monthly meeting agenda to its chair, since those rules do not say the public comment item must come only at the end of the meeting, and since at the June meeting held yesterday, you four, a significant portion of those ultimately responsible for the MPD, all made presentations, I was surprised that Chair Brown's proposed agenda again relegated public comment to the end of the meeting.

I pointed this out in my own comment, but more important, I think you should be aware of a concern that has arisen as a result of another portion of Chair Brown's remarks at the May meeting. The meeting minutes indicate these additional points she made:

"On another hand, there have been many comments from the public regarding the PCOC role and how it relates to auditing the Office of Police Conduct Review. The authority of the PCOC, according to the ordinance, is to help shaping police policy, auditing cases through reviewing case summary data, engaging the community in discussions of police procedures.
"It is concerning that there seems to be a misunderstanding about the role of the PCOC which it is to collect, review and audit summary data in order to identify gaps within policies and being able to drive recommendations and drive meaningful changes.
"There is public concern regarding operational aspects of the OPCR. The Chair encouraged community members to address those issues through the correct outlets: the Director of the Civil Rights Department, the OPCR, the City Council and the Mayor's Office."

Not reflected in the minutes but in elaborating on the point she was making, Chair Brown said that when reviewing case summaries of individual complaints, the role of the PCOC was to ask "what" questions, not "why" questions.

Chuck Turchick said...

Here was my response to Chair Brown's position, which I delivered as the rest of my public comment yesterday:

Ideally, an effective and credible system of civilian oversight of police conduct -- three words in this commission's name -- will include mechanisms that result in at least three things.

First -- and these are not necessarily in order of importance -- it will include a way to recommend policy changes to the police department. I think the studies that have been completed and that are in progress, and the recommendations that have come out of them or will come out of them have been important and impressive in fulfilling this first function.

But the police department may have wonderful policies on paper and they may not be followed in practice. Those who study the criminal justice system talk about the law on the books and the law in action. So second, an oversight system should be able to ensure that good policies are actually being complied with.

Third, an oversight system ought to provide some assurance that justice is being done when complaints are brought against officers, that the mechanism for handling complaints is fair to both complainants and officers, and it is actually resulting in just outcomes.

One way of fulfilling these second and third functions is to examine carefully what is happening in individual cases. Your auditing of case summaries provides you the opportunity to do precisely that. Are officers following the prescribed policies? If not, are they being held accountable? Is the OPCR following the procedures as laid out in the ordinance? Is it ever exceeding its authority?

Now, Chair Brown's comments at last month's meeting seem to suggest the only function of the PCOC is to recommend policy changes, and not to ensure that existing policies are being followed or that justice is being achieved when citizens bring complaints to the OPCR. And that your case auditing responsibility is only a way to facilitate your policy recommendation role. But this body is not called the "Police Policy Oversight Commission." No, it's called the "Police Conduct Oversight Commission."

Chuck Turchick said...

I believe that to have a credible civilian oversight system, the PCOC needs to ensure that these other two oversight functions, ones that deal with actual police conduct, are also being carried out. The Chair's limited vision does not permit that.

This needs further discussion -- discussion among commissioners and between commissioners and the public. The questions involved include: What is and what should be the relationship between the PCOC and the OPCR? What does and what should the public expect from the PCOC in terms of civilian oversight? What does the ordinance allow?

This may require a listening -- or better yet, a dialogue -- session. Since at last month's meeting, no one responded to the Chair's comments, the impression may have been left that her position is the Commission's position. I hope it isn't. That would sell both you and the concept of "police conduct oversight" short. I hope you take seriously the necessity of further discussion on Chair Brown's comments. I don't think I've made a more serious or a more important comment in any previous PCOC meeting. This goes to the core of what are we doing here.

Thank you for your time. Does anyone have any questions?


Chuck Turchick

Johnny Northside! said...

I don't really need to agree with comments to publish them as part of a First Amendment discussion. Thank you, Mr. Turchick, for taking the time to submit your remarks.

Here is a musical tribute, just for you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Johnny, for your interesting blog.

I have read your postings since the Nizzel George shooting. That death, with the "wiki"-like back story about the shooters, their families and connections, is of course even sadder because the victim was a four-year-old. And throughout the years, I was worried about some of the threatening comments. Yikes.

On a lighter note, although they were a few years ago, I really enjoyed the informative posts about winning the libel case, and the telling of the capture of Thanksgiving Day crap burglars.

I wish you the best in your future endeavors. My best wishes to your son, too!

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping the cameras will protect the officers & the tax payers from false accusations,complaints & lawsuits against our brave officers who are trying to protect us from the many terrorists we are surrounded by. I'm so glad to see you posting again Johnny.

Johnny Northside! said...

I am retired and only approving comments every now and then. Call it a last hurrah.

Anonymous said...

I call it a crock of shit!