Applications have poured in from Minneapolis residents hoping to join a 15-member board that will conduct oversight of the city's Police Department.
Until the March 20 deadline, city staff received more than 160 applications for the new Community Commission on Police Oversight — the most for any city committee or commission since at least 2010.
Created last fall by the City Council, the CCPO replaces previous watchdog groups — including the Office of Police Conduct Review and the Police Conduct Oversight Commission — that were criticized as ineffective before going dormant last year.
Minneapolis Civil Rights Director Alberder Gillespie said the new board will "provide a critical forum for the public to have meaningful engagement in police oversight."
The earlier board was under fire from some of its former leaders who felt they had been unfairly reined in by the police administration and the city and believed their recommendations were ignored. Meanwhile, city officials felt the board had become dysfunctional and needed a new process and a fresh start. The new commission structure was drafted by the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department and its final form was approved during a marathon City Council meeting last December.
Sarah McKenzie, a city spokeswoman, said in an email that the 160 applications "is the highest response rate to a recruitment for any single board or commission in the city since at least 2010."
She said that for comparison, the previous oversight body, the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, received 48 applications during the 2020 recruitment period, which was higher than average.
In earlier years, the city had between 10 and 20 applications for that commission, she said.
One of the highest single recruitments the city has had in the period going back to 2010 was for the Bicycle Advisory Committee — a popular and active advisory body — which had 76 applications in 2010, McKenzie said. Last year, that same advisory committee received 39 applications,
"One hundred sixty seems unbelievable," said Michael Friedman, chair of the Minneapolis Police Civilian Review Authority, a previous police oversight body from 2003 through 2005. "I can't remember even more than 15 applying."
"I think it reflects an interest in policing and concern and I think City Council members are actively recruiting for the positions," said Dave Bicking, a board member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, an activist group that monitors and protests police misconduct.
Bicking said he was one of several members of his organization who applied for the new commission. He was sent an email by the city's Civil Rights Department inviting him to be interviewed for 15 minutes over Zoom on Monday. "I am not expecting to get appointed," he said, adding he didn't believe city officials would want someone who would "rock the boat."
Linea Palmisano, vice president of the City Council, said Friday that the Civil Rights Department is prescreening the applicants to ensure they meet the requirements spelled out in the new city ordinance.
Palmisano said Bicking's comment that officials did not want members rocking the boat was "unsubstantiated," adding, "I think our whole point in hammering out this new ordinance is to make sure we have a whole new strong community oversight mechanism. This is what the people have been screaming about for years."
Police officials and city leaders continue to face greater scrutiny as they struggle to recast a police force that has been heavily criticized for its policies and practices following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin while three other officers failed to intervene.
Mayor Jacob Frey appointed Cedric Alexander to the newly created position of Community Safety commissioner and named a new police chief, Brian O'Hara, following the retirement of Chief Medaria Arradondo.
The city also is awaiting the outcome of a major Justice Department investigation of the Minneapolis police that is likely to put the department under a consent decree overseen by an independent monitor who will be watching to see how reforms are implemented.
Thirteen applicants, one per ward, will be appointed to the new oversight commission by the City Council, and Mayor Jacob Frey will appoint two more. Each council member will nominate one person from their ward. All nominations will be formally approved by the council and mayor.
Commission members will serve on panels on a rotating basis, reviewing investigations of allegations of police misconduct. They will have direct access to investigative case files that have been produced by the Civil Rights Department and the police. The commission will then vote on whether to recommend a "finding of merit" for the allegation. If members believe the case has merit, they will recommend a range of corrective actions.
The full commission will conduct its business during public meetings, and residents will have an opportunity to provide input.
According to the city's Communications Office, the city sought "a cross-section of Minneapolis, including formerly incarcerated individuals, LGBTQ community members, Black, Indigenous and other people of color, people with different abilities as well as community members from every ward of Minneapolis."
Frey, who called the number of applicants "incredible," said in a statement that the large number was not surprising, given that the city has been "a global focal point for police reform — and we plan to use that focus as other cities look to us in the future as the example for how to do policing right."
Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins hailed the high interest in the commission. "This overwhelming response indicates that people are eager for meaningful, community-led oversight of the Minneapolis Police Department."
The first meeting of the new commission will be in late April.