In March, these pages featured well-reasoned, compelling, but opposing commentaries about the role of policing in our community.
In “Defunding cops is not the answer,” March 8, the Star Tribune Editorial Board wrote: “While activists are right to argue that the root causes of crime must be more vigorously attacked … evidence strongly suggests cutting police budgets and reducing police strength on the streets is likely to backfire.”
In response, in “We must look beyond police for community safety,” (March 22) Tony Williams, Leilah Abdennabi and Sheila Nezhad opined: “We have become convinced that to ensure the long-term safety of our communities, we must look beyond police”.
On the face of it, these are irreconcilable opinions. Yet, perhaps against all odds, a policy of increasing the police force may satisfy seemingly differing interests. The result would be to bridge what is too often a caustic divide and bring Minneapolitans closer together on the critical issue of how best to achieve a safe, secure and harmonious city.
While there is scant evidence of a convergence of world views on this proposition at the moment, we should have the conversation and see where it leads.
For me, what’s old is new again on this issue. I campaigned for mayor in 1993 with a pledge to increase the size of the Minneapolis Police Department by 25 officers per year until the end of the decade, which would have brought the sworn force to 1,000 officers by the year 2000. This was only one element of a comprehensive approach. I didn’t believe then and don’t believe now that law enforcement is the only path to greater public safety. But it is an essential element, and MPD must be staffed to deliver effective, professional policing throughout our city.
Minneapolis has never reached even the level I proposed all those years ago. The high point has been 916 officers; today, the number is 888. We remain well below staffing ratios for comparable cities. For someone who holds my point of view about the need for more police, this means a force spending too much of its time responding to radio calls and not embedded in neighborhoods, short of capacity when it comes to investigative follow-up, and limited in its ability to engage in a systematic hiring program to diversify the force to better reflect the community it serves.
But as politically charged as this issue was in the early-90s — news flash, I didn’t win the ’93 election — it’s even more so today during a time of heightened response to officer-involved shootings and police-community relations. Our city has been rocked multiple times in recent years. The reverberations are still felt and powerfully shape discussions about the role of policing as part of a public safety strategy.
But it’s out of the reaction to these tragic events and long-held, legitimate grievance with some police practices that there is an opportunity for agreement on a unifying path forward.
That’s because the case for a larger force lies in better, not more policing. The politically progressive publication Vox outlined this case well in an article published in February of this year. “More police officers, in particular, doesn’t need to mean more arrests and more incarceration. More beat cops walking the streets seems to deter crime and reduce the need to arrest anyone. And some of the best-validated approaches to reducing excessive force by police officers require departments to adopt more manpower-intensive practices.”
In holding out hope for a unifying direction, it helps that Chief Medaria Arradondo supports a larger force not only to adequately police our city, but also as a key means toward the important end of reshaping departmental culture. He is a trusted figure, committed to building greater community harmony. His judgment on this issue should carry great weight.
As part of a community conversation about policing, it’s also essential to emphasize — as did both the Editorial Board and community activists — the importance of investments in long-term solutions that help people in our community in need of a hand up. Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council have demonstrated this commitment. They are jointly focused on developing more affordable housing, providing employment training options and youth development programming, improving educational outcomes and implementing other community and human development strategies that also constitute part of a comprehensive safety and security vision.
But those efforts shouldn’t be positioned as an alternative to a police department that can better do its part to achieve the same vision. In fact, my own experience doing community-building work made it clear such strategies were most successful when neighborhoods and neighbors were also not dealing with pervasive crime concerns.
The mayor and chief, and the City Council, have been on different paths when it comes to the issue of building a larger sworn force. Their debates mirror the differing opinions expressed in the Star Tribune and conversations across Minneapolis. Whether we will eventually end up on a unified path is unknown. Our city would be better off if we did. So in my mind, hope springs eternal.
Steve Cramer is president and CEO, Minneapolis Downtown Council (firstname.lastname@example.org)