Minneapolis residents had the opportunity to hear directly from the three finalists in the search for an independent evaluator who will oversee the settlement agreement between the city and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) and monitor the city’s compliance with the DOJ consent decree.
The candidates officially made their case to community members at separate forums. The first was held at the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs on January 9. The second took place the next day at Plymouth Congregational Church just south of downtown Minneapolis.
The three finalists, all of which are from out-of-state, were identified by the city and MDHR once the state reached a settlement agreement with Minneapolis after finding a pattern and practice of discriminatory policing that targeted people of color within the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
Officials put out a request for proposals for an independent evaluator in May of last year. According to the city, the candidates were selected based on factors ranging from their experience and the qualifications of their teams to the strength of their proposed plans.
The three teams selected as finalists are Effective Law Enforcement for All (ELEFA), a nonprofit organization with offices in New Orlean, and Silver Springs, Maryland; Relman Colfax, a Washington D.C.-based civil rights firm; and Jensen Hughes, a global law enforcement consulting firm.
Independent evaluator candidates made their case
Rev. DeWayne Davis, the lead minister of the Plymouth Congregational Church, addressed the crowded room of community members, stakeholders, and law enforcement officials on Wednesday evening.
Davis outlined the ground rules and moderated the forum that provided 15 minutes for candidates to introduce themselves, followed by an hour-long question-and-answer period.
Those in attendance had a chance to write down questions that the candidates were given an allotted period of time to answer. Many of the questions revolved around personal and professional ties that the candidates had in Minneapolis, and how they would best navigate those relationships if they were selected.
Sydney R. Roberts, senior consultant at Jensen Hughes, spoke about the firm’s past and current partnership with the city in her opening remarks.
“Our time spent listening to you back in ‘21 after the murder of George Floyd, and again these last several months, have informed that awareness. [It] will enable us to get started the minute we are selected as your independent evaluator,” Roberts said.
The Jensen Hughes firm was hired to assess the city’s response by MPD officers to the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. Their report was released in March 2022, and showcased a breakdown in communications and emergency planning by the city. Currently, Jensen Hughes and the city are working together under a separate contract to administer a wide-ranging training assessment of MPD.
Reed Colfax, civil rights attorney and partner at Relman Colfax, was on stage along with former Brooklyn Park Police Chief Mike Davis. They were joined in the audience by former federal litigator Christy Lopez, who served as a co-monitor of an Oakland, California Police Department’s consent decree, and as a DOJ attorney was tasked with police reform under Ferguson, Missouri’s consent decree.
“All of the ingredients for success are here. You have an active, engaged community who’s been working on these issues and knows the history from decades. You have a city and a leadership of a police department that says they want to change,” Colfax stated.
Dr. Raj Sethuraju, a Metropolitan State University associate professor and activist in the Twin Cities, was also identified as a member of their team.
“I want to say that this change, this process that has been introduced into the framework of the consent decree cannot move forward unless and until you are willingly participating and informing and being critical, being skeptical about these changes that we’re proposing,” Dr. Raj stated to the audience. “This is not something that is just going to take shape and form without your energy and your presence and your spirit.”
Previously, ELEFA has partnered with police departments in Montgomery County, Md. and Orlando, Fla. where they administered audits and provided recommendations to reduce use-of-force incidents. Their team is co-led by the organization’s president, David L. Douglass, and former Baltimore police commissioner and former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department Michael Harrison.
Despite ELEFA not having any direct ties to Minneapolis, they expressed their willingness and openness to working with community members early on in the process.
Finalists share efforts to connect with community stakeholders
“After our panel last night, a gentleman came up to me, most of you probably know Omar Jamal. He introduced himself as a member of the Somali community,” Douglass stated. “I said, ‘I’m so glad to meet you” because I know there’s a big Somali community here. But I don’t know anyone in it and I need to know that community.”
The ELEFA team also pointed to their relationship with Nelson Mullins, a national law firm with a Minneapolis office, which has agreed to provide the team with pro bono legal services for their work if selected as the independent evaluator.
Throughout the question-and-answer period, the finalists were asked how they would prioritize Minneapolis in their work and how they would work to hold the city and MPD accountable if they fell short of complying with the consent decrees.
“Part of our job is to make sure that we bring the team that you need, and if we need to add, we add. And we do that with the mindset and awareness that there is a cap on the financial cost that can be charged, and we will not increase our price to meet the needs of this community,” said Roberts of Jensen Hughes.
The team at Relman Colfax made it clear that they wouldn’t come to Minneapolis with an “off-the-shelf approach,” but would rather work with community members to develop a solution unique to the city.
“We don’t come with what happened in Baltimore. We don’t come with what happened in New Orleans. We don’t come with what happened in Seattle. We are learning lessons from those consent decrees, seeing what worked, seeing what didn’t work, and creating an approach and a process that is unique and effective for Minneapolis in partnership with the community,” Reed Colfax said.
Activists voice concerns with the selection process
Despite the fact that many of the members of the panel hold public positions, their identities have not been released. The decision to select the independent evaluator will come down to a panel that includes several individuals representing various organizations and agencies including representatives from the MPD, the City Attorney’s Office, MDHR, the Department of Justice, the Mayor’s Office, the Office of Community Safety, and the Minneapolis Department of Information Technology.
Rev. Ian Bethel, chair of the Unity Community Mediation Team (UCMT), voiced his concern with the selection process and believed that input from the public wasn’t being considered and about the lack of transparency in the selection process.
“I’m representing people who cannot be here,” Rev. Bethel stated during the public forum Wednesday night. “We need to know who is going to make the decision.”
An activist and South Minneapolis resident, Al Flowers Sr., also chimed in during the forum, calling on Rev. Davis to acknowledge the fact that African Americans and Native Americans are being killed by the police.
“As the moderator, you need to speak up about our people. If you don’t speak up on it, we’re going to go through this again” he said. “We’re in a predominantly White room, when the incident happened to African Americans,” observed Flowers.
Anita Urvina, a former Minneapolis Civil Rights Commissioner, also shared her concerns about the selection process and how the city was working to engage with the community. Urvina wondered why the city hadn’t hosted the forums in a church on the north or south sides of Minneapolis or in Cedar-Riverside.
“We are community members who have a dedication, who have a passion to see that this work is done. And we have been doing it and we will continue to move forward in our process,” she said.
Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, which held its own evaluator monitor forum [see “Monitoring the city’s consent decrees”] that excluded Jensen Hughes because of its work in assessing the response to 2020’s civil unrest, said the forum was a good opportunity for the community to learn something about the finalists, but that there should be more opportunities to hear from them directly.
The team approved for the role will have to develop a plan on how to implement the initial four years of reforms. They will be expected to share semi-annual progress reports and conduct yearly satisfaction surveys among the public and the police.
Ultimately, whichever team is approved to serve as the independent evaluator, they will receive up to $1.5 million a year, with the contract set to begin on March 9. The contract is subject to approval by the City Council.