On Monday, April 16, the Minneapolis City Council will be voting on the proposed rehire of Velma Korbel as head of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission (CRC). There are numerous reasons why Ms. Korbel is not capable of heading this important city department. As director of the CRC, Korbel oversees four vital functions.
The Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) “promotes adherence to the highest standard of police conduct and fosters mutual respect between the Minneapolis Police Department and the community it serves by fairly, objectively and neutrally investigating complaints that allege misconduct by Minneapolis Police officers.” Under Korbel’s guidance, the OPCR has received over 1,800 civilian complaints. Only 10 cases, a 0.55% rate, have led to discipline. The national average for civilian oversight bodies is 7-8%.
The Complaint Investigations Division (CID) “investigates complaints of discrimination that have occurred in the City of Minneapolis within 365 days of the alleged incident.” Under Korbel, the Division has not posted an annual report since 2014. No wonder. In 2011 the Division submitted 73 cases to the Civil Rights Commission for review. In 2017, they submitted just two cases.
The Civil Rights Commission “implements the city’s Civil Rights policies through public information, education, mediation, conciliation and enforcement as stated in the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances.” Under Korbel the CRC has not even been able to keep enough commissioners to hold meetings—four of the last five meetings in 2017 were cancelled. The Commission has held only one contested case hearing in the past eight years.
The Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) “assures that police services are delivered in a lawful and nondiscriminatory manner by shaping police policy, auditing police misconduct cases, engaging the community in discussions of police procedure, and facilitating cultural awareness trainings for the Minneapolis Police Department.” The PCOC barely performs any of these functions and has lacked a quorum for three meetings over six months. To get a sense of the complaints the PCOC is reviewing after deliberation by the OPCR, you can go to the PCOC site on the City of Minneapolis website and click on “Meeting Agendas and Minutes.” Although the members are supposed to be auditing the cases coming from the OPCR, this body is clearly meant to further legitimize the actions of the OPCR.
The latest problem with Ms. Korbel is her recent poor judgment in providing a badly designed Hate Crime Hotline. People were calling in from outside the city, and the person handling the calls had to tell them she could not help them. Korbel had stated that the FBI and the St. Paul Police Department had agreed to be partners to help in this effort, yet neither of these parties had heard of the hotline when contacted about it. The hotline’s purported ability to deal with “hate speech,” showed a deep misunderstanding of the First Amendment, which allows hate speech when not accompanied by threats. Although the term was scrubbed from the statement of purpose of the hotline by Kristin Johnson, who was in charge of the hotline and was subsequently fired, Velma Korbel reinstated it. This is extreme hubris. Willful ignorance is not to be tolerated in an important position such as the one Ms. Korbel holds.
What Can Be Done About This?
1) Contact your council member before the hearing: Call 311 to find out who your council member is, or to be put through to your council member.
2) Email council members at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3) Contact CUAPB at 612-703-1612 for more information or to learn about giving testimony. There will be a gathering with free lunch and a briefing on giving testimony at 11:30 a.m. on the day of the hearing at 4200 Cedar Ave. S.
4) COME TO THE PUBLIC HEARING: This is extremely important. You can sit in the audience and hold a sign. Velma Korbel will have all the people she gives jobs to testifying on her behalf, so we need people there to show that our side has a lot of support and that we are watching. At the beginning of what appears to be an even less responsive term in the Mayor’s Office and City Council, we must push back. The position of director of the Civil Rights Commission is a job that directly affects our most vulnerable residents, and affects the ever rising amount of money paid out in lawsuits for preventable tragedies.
Date of hearing: Monday, April 16, 1:30 p.m.
Location: Room 317, Minneapolis City Hall