Mpls. crime spike ramps up debate over funding police

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Minneapolis has seen an increase in violent crime, including gun violence, since this past summer. According to the most recent Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) data, violent crime is up over 20% citywide from last year, and nearly 40% more than two years ago.  

The city’s Fourth Precinct has the highest number of crimes reported (1,552 or 32.9% of the city total), and gunfire activity is highest on the North Side according to the MPD “Shots fired” map. City homicides thus far have doubled this year (62) over last year (34).

Many are pointing to the crime spike with George Floyd’s death on Memorial Day, subsequent protests and disturbances, and cries to “defund the police,” which some call controversial. Others say it simply means to redirect some funds from law enforcement to other essential areas that could prevent crime and violence.  

Five Minneapolis City Council members this summer publicly pledged for police reform, including establishing a new community safety department that in essence would replace MPD. A new charter amendment was proposed, which Mayor Jacob Frey among others opposed because it would give more authority to the council and divert accountability from the mayor and police chief.

The proposal eventually failed to meet the deadline required to put it on the November ballot for public vote.

MPD also reports that over 100 police officers have left the force since May for various reasons, including retirement, leave of absence, and PTSD issues.  

Earlier this year, several Minneapolis residents, including former city council member Don Samuels and Jordan Area Community Council Director Cathy Spann, filed suit against the City of Minneapolis, charging that MPD staffing has fallen below the minimum thresholds required by the city charter. A judge last month heard arguments from both sides and has up to 90 days to make a decision.

The MSR contacted Samuels, Spann, and MPD spokesman John Elder for comment, but at press time our requests have not been met.

Last week the city council voted 7-6 to pay nearly $500,000 to hire temporary police officers for MPD from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and Metro Transit from November 15 through December 31. A preliminary vote also was taken to increase the MPD budget by nearly a half-million dollars for more recruits and $5 million for additional overtime as part of Mayor Frey’s proposed 2021 budget.

This action last week signaled to some that the council has backed away from their police reform demands in response to their constituents’ concerns over rising crime in their neighborhoods.

“I’m overall very disappointed” in last Friday’s vote, said Zola Richardson of Reclaim the Block. The organizer told the MSR, “I would really like to see those resources invested directly in the community because it has been proven time and time again that police don’t solve anything.”

“The police force needs more help,” argued Bishop Richard Howell, whose Shiloh Temple International church is located on West Broadway in North Minneapolis. He told the MSR, “I stand with our chief [Medaria Arradondo]. He is asking for more help to build up his police force.”

Howell added that he’s afraid the combination of MPD officers’ departures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months is being taken advantage of by some. “I’m sure that the streets are understanding this lack of police on the street, so therefore I believe [those who are committing crimes] will continue their activity because who is going to stop them,” noted the longtime Northside pastor.

Richardson nonetheless pointed out, “There are folks who believe that the physical presence of police makes them feel safer. That’s not true.”

“Without question,” continued Howell, “there is a lot more stress, unprecedented stress. Never have we seen anything like this [in our communities]… You can’t even calculate it. It’s uncalculable.”

Richardson said the “defunding the police” demands have been mischaracterized. “I think defunding the police…[shows] how communities could invest in more housing opportunities, economic relief, and when people’s basic needs are met it solves so many problems.”  

She fully supports “reallocating funds and investing directly into the community instead of hiring more officers. “I don’t think you can go wrong with that,” said Richardson. Howell said that he refuses to blame city leaders for the crime spike. “I am not going to point fingers at the leadership now. We all like to blame somebody when something’s not right, but I think the leadership is trying to find the right pathway to bring resolution to these issues.”

“I think [last Friday’s] decision by the council…clearly [shows] who on the council moves with integrity and who doesn’t,” stressed Richardson. “Who on the council is still rooted on radically imagining a safer city and the possibility of getting there, and who is still fixated and rooted in upholding an oppressive regime.”

About Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at challman@spokesman-recorder.com

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