Minneapolis Civil Rights Department leader defends herself amid controversy

Velma Korbel has been director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department for nearly eight years. Now, she is setting the record straight about a controversial hate crimes hotline and why she deserves to stay on the job.

Korbel says after seeing a rise in hate crimes across the country after the 2016 presidential election, Minneapolis started a hate crimes hotline for people around Minnesota to report discrimination and police misconduct to the city's 311 operators. But Korbel says it came under fire right away from conservative bloggers who said it was trying to police "hate speech."

"We do not have authority over that," said Korbel. "That's a constitutional right people have, so we were very clear early on that that's not what the Civil Rights Department does. We do not police speech."

After a report by the Star Tribune about a former employee who claims she was fired after raising concerns that the hotline was poorly planned and had no system in place to deal with complaints outside the city, Mayor Jacob Frey is reportedly reconsidering reappointing Korbel to her position. But she believes she should stay on.

"Because I'm good at this job and I'm passionate about it," said Korbel. "I love the City of Minneapolis and I get joy out of helping people."

Korbel says since the hotline started last June, it's received 133 calls and about half were referred to the city's Civil Rights Department. From there, one was sent to the FBI, eight to Minneapolis Police, two to the state Human Rights Department, and one each to OutFront Minnesota and the Volunteer Lawyers Network of Minnesota. A total of 18 complaints were investigated by the Civil Rights Department itself, while 32 were not investigated because the department lacked jurisdiction.

"If even one person who believes they've been the victim of discrimination or bias act in some way and they call the 311 number to get access to the civil rights department - I believe that's a success," Korbel said.

Korbel says the number of calls to the hate crimes hotline has dwindled to about three a month. She says it’s possible the city could stop marketing it as such in the future, but callers would still be able to get in touch with the Civil Rights Department through 311.