It’s understandable that some Minneapolis police officers feel like they’re under siege. They’ve been targeted in protests over police-involved shootings, and some say they feel disrespected by city leaders and average citizens.
No doubt police have difficult, dangerous jobs, but dealing with complaints, scrutiny and public demands for accountability comes with the territory. And if the response of some cops is a work slowdown, as was reported in the Star Tribune earlier this week, those officers need an attitude adjustment.
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the union that represents the Minneapolis Police Department’s 850-plus officers, says the department has a morale crisis because of the public criticism of police officers after the shooting death last November of Jamar Clark. Kroll said his members are into “self-preservation mode’’ and responding only to emergency calls.
But their actions — or lack of action — have yielded these results: Through May 2, police have made 8,504 arrests citywide, compared with 11,879 during the same period last year. In addition, the number of people who have been stopped, questioned and frisked has declined nearly 32 percent year over year.
In the Fourth Precinct, covering the North Side, the decrease in stops has been especially dramatic. During the first four months of 2015, 8,916 stops were made, compared with 4,359 during the same period this year, and arrests have fallen to 2,153 from 3,925. At the same time, violent crime has increased by 9 percent this year, driven largely by a recent surge in shootings.
To ignore crime — even low-level offenses — only encourages disorder and threatens whatever progress has been made in building strong police-community relations. The slowdown could backfire. By not doing their jobs, cops risk losing the support of more city residents, the majority of whom respect the vital role the police play in keeping the city safe.
It’s impossible to get inside heads of the city’s police officers, who make hundreds of judgment calls each week about stops and arrests. Some may indeed be ignoring or taking their time with minor calls and doing less work. Others may be avoiding encounters where their actions may be scrutinized, while some could be rethinking the more aggressive tactics they’ve previously used. Or, as one veteran officer told a reporter: “Confrontation equals getting indicted, put on the front page. … As far as I’m concerned, we’re done working.”
Officers who feel that way — and put fellow officers and the public at risk as a result — should also be done collecting public paychecks and benefits. Even in the face of tough criticism, they must do their jobs.
In Facebook postings and in an interview with the Star Tribune, City Council Member Blong Yang expressed frustration with the slowdown strategy. Yang chairs the council’s public safety committee and represents north Minneapolis.
“For the most part, we pay them pretty well and we indemnify them, and to get this sort of response, I shake my head,” Yang said. “A slowdown is beneath a profession that is supposed to protect with courage and serve with compassion.”
We couldn’t agree more.