City Council questions police chief on rise of violent crime in Minneapolis this year

Council members say residents are asking "Where are the police" and are reporting officers say they need more resources to respond to crime.
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Members of the Minneapolis City Council pressed Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on the rise in crime within the city, saying their constituents report police officers stating there aren't enough resources for them to respond to incidents.

Arradondo on Tuesday morning joined the Minneapolis City Council for the first of a series of study sessions on reforming the Minneapolis Police Department in which he presented crime trends in each precinct. 

It comes after a turbulent few months for MPD and the council, with the death of George Floyd prompting the council to call for the disbanding of the department and replacing it with a new community safety and violence prevention department, which would still include some peace officers.

These efforts were blocked by the Minneapolis Charter Commission, which voted against allowing. the council's plans to be on the ballot this November. In the interim, there have been efforts ongoing within the council, MPD, and mayor's office to bring reform to the department.

But Tuesday's session largely focused on City Council members sharing what they've heard from their constituents about a rise in various crimes and asking the police chief what he's going to do about it. 

"The level of gun violence, drug dealing, intimidation, extortion – people are having to pay to get out of their alleys – are we doing anything to be engaged and resolve these problems?" City Council member Andrea Jenkins asked, referring to the area around 38th and Chicago, the site of the George Floyd's May 25 killing and memorial.

Jenkins said she's hearing from community members that officers are calling the area a "no-go zone" and will only meet people a few blocks away when a crime is reported.

Other City Council members have heard similar things from their constituents, who have asked: "Where are the police" and have reported officers telling them they're not enforcing laws or working to suppress robberies and other crimes unless they get more resources. 

“This is not new, but it is very concerning in the current context," City Council President Lisa Bender said. 

She said there are many possible explanations for this, but believes it's possible the officers are campaigning because they don't support a council member or the mayor, or because they think they're making a case to get more resources for the police department. 

“I can tell you in my ward, it is having the opposite effect. It is making people even more frustrated with the department," Bender said. "How do we get this under control?”

Arradondo said this is "troubling" to hear, and he'd work with supervisors in the department to address this. Meanwhile, he told Jenkins that they'll "keep trying our best to provide some sense of community safety normalcy" so people don't feel like they're abandoned or held hostage in the area, noting some people are "emboldened" by the current situation at 38th and Chicago.

“We need to make sure that our communities know that we are going to be there,” Arradondo said. “That we’re going to be responsive. We’ve taken an oath to do that.”

At least 100 officers have left the MPD this year, which is higher than the 40-45 who typically step down or are inactive among the department annually. But Arradondo said he has shifted things around so there are enough patrol officers covering the city

The Minnesota Reformer, citing data obtained via a public records request, found the response time for high-priority 911 calls has been lagging since Floyd's killing and people are waiting longer for a squad to become available to respond to a call.

From June 9-July 6, police response times slowed 1.56 minutes from when a call was assigned to an officer until the squad arrived and the time from when a call was made until a squad arrived slowed 3.86 minutes, the Reformer said. 

This comes as violent crimes in Minneapolis, including things like carjackings, gun violence and robberies, have spiked this year. 

Fifty-nine people have been killed in Minneapolis in 2020, with the most recent being a 17-year-old boy who was fatally shot Monday afternoon in north Minneapolis. Last year, there were 48 homicides in the city, city statistics show

Meanwhile, shootings/gun violence in the city have reached a five-year high, Arradondo said Tuesday, and violent crimes overall are also up compared to this time last year – through Sept. 14, there were 3,731 violent crimes in the city, whereas in 2019 there were 3,112 by this time. 

“If we just stayed status quo, right now, we will end this year with numbers that are absolutely unconscionable about what we should have in terms of community violence," Arradondo said.

Analysis is needed

Often police are working in a "reactionary mode," Arradondo said, where they're finding crime instead of preventing it. 

When crime numbers are high like this year, they'll just move onto the next year and not do a deep dive, as a city, into what caused the incidents, Arradondo explained.

To do this, the city should invest in analyzing what caused each incident of violence to understand why it happened in order to prevent future crimes, Arradondo said, stressing the need to do this on a national level, too. 

To help address violence in the city, Arradondo suggested having candid conversations about the department's strengths and weaknesses and work on ways the MPD "can get better."

"High crime and lack of legitimacy cannot exist in the MPD. If we have high crime and we have communities that don't view us as legitimate, that's a recipe for failure," Arradondo said, noting they need to do the work to gain mutual respect between the department and community so they both trust and support one another.

Other suggestions included being transparent about crime, improving officer wellness and leveraging the department's partners. Arradondo also noted that this type of transformational change takes time.

'Flabbergasted'

Many City Council members' tone during Tuesday's meeting represented a shift from a few months ago when they were pushing for the dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department following Floyd's killing. 

This surprised City Council member Phillipe Cunningham, who supports a new community safety agency in place of the current police department that's focused on stopping crime before it happens. Cunningham represents the Minneapolis Fourth Ward, which is where many of the recent violent crimes have happened, including Monday's homicide.

“What I am sort of flabbergasted by right now is colleagues, who a very short time ago who were calling for abolition, are now suggesting we should be putting more funding and resources into MPD," Cunningham said. “We know that this is not producing different outcomes.”

Cunningham said it's clear the MPD cannot deal with these problems alone, and he believes if there are other systems in place, such as violence interrupters the City Council recently allocated $1 million from the department's budget to fund, they'll get ahead of the violence and taking the burden off of police officers in having to respond to everything.

He addressed the study session Tuesday night in a Facebook post as well, writing:

"MPD still receives $185M/yr to provide a City service. While the City Council committed to reallocating some of MPD’s budget to other safety strategies that unburden police from having to respond to issues outside of their purview, MPD is still responsible for providing its current services and will be held accountable just like every other City department. Further, the Chief said the precincts remain fully staffed due to how he has rearranged resources, which is why there were so many questions."

Cunningham noted that while his colleagues may "swing from one extreme to the other" he has remained consistent about "the need for a comprehensive approach to public safety" and he'll continue to focus on "building out those new systems."

The City Council plans to have future study sessions on reforming the Minneapolis Police Department.

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