Amid an outcry of concern about violent crime on Minneapolis’ North Side, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau and Mayor Betsy Hodges walked Tuesday through areas plagued by shootings to talk to citizens and journalists.
The twin appearances came at a time when Minneapolis police numbers are at an historic low point, and on the heels of a bloody July 4th weekend that saw two people killed and at least three injured by gunfire.
That bloodshed came on top of a 5 percent rise in violent crime across Minneapolis so far this year. Aggravated assaults, a category of crime that includes cases in which people are shot but not killed, are up 13 percent in north Minneapolis so far this year.
Speaking at a brief news conference, Harteau said police have already dedicated more resources to north Minneapolis and need community support to make more progress.
“People in this neighborhood know exactly who commits the crimes; they know when they’re going to happen and we need to have that conversation before it happens,” she said. “The goal is to make sure that we empower community members so frankly you need less and less police, not more police.”
The department’s current 780 officers are far fewer than the more typical 850 to 900 officers it has had over the past 10 years. Longtime union president John Delmonico has said that the lowest number he’s ever seen in Minneapolis was 770.
During a three-year period starting in 2004, the department’s numbers fell to about 800. A rise in violent crime during that period seemed to correspond to the smaller force size, with crime numbers dropping only when then-Minneapolis Chief Tim Dolan hired more officers early in his tenure in 2006 and 2007.
Harteau said Tuesday that the situation should improve soon. She has authority from the City Council to hire more officers, and said the department will be at 860 by year’s end thanks to hires of rookie officers and veteran officers from other departments.
She emphasized Tuesday that she believes the crime problem is about more than the size of the department. “This is beyond a police issue,” she said. “We can’t arrest our way out of it. This is beyond simply having an officer on every corner.”
The City Council’s public safety chair, Blong Yang, said it’s “partially fair” to criticize the city for failing to hire more police officers before this summer, but added that the police budget has also been the subject of an ongoing conversation within City Hall.
“I think what folks aren’t talking about is there is this struggle at the city to decide what our priorities are and whether we want to put more money into cops,” he said Tuesday. “When you do the math, it doesn’t really add up. We want to grow the city to 500,000, but we’re not thinking about growing our police department or growing our fire department, and that’s really important.”
Harteau, asked if it would be fair to criticize the city for failing to hire enough police officers, said it simply takes more time to hire quality people. She pointed to a recent call for so-called “lateral” hires, meaning a veteran from another department, that initially drew more than 50 applicants. Only 16 of those people made it through the background checks or even showed up, she said.
“It’s not for our lack of planning, preparation and trying,” she said.
Guns, thugs, grief
The latest crime statistics show a 13 percent increase in aggravated assaults in north Minneapolis for the year so far, up to July 7. Violent crime is up 4.3 percent in north Minneapolis, and 5 percent citywide.
The police also shared an alarming statistic Tuesday: Guns seized off north Minneapolis streets number 258 so far this year, a 34 percent increase over the number seized by this time last year.
Also speaking at Harteau’s North Side appearance was City Council President Barb Johnson, who decried a recent shooting in a busy commercial corridor of the Camden neighborhood.
“There are hardworking people that live in north Minneapolis that do not deserve to have their neighborhoods overrun with thugs with guns, and I’m tired of it,” she said, drawing a smattering of applause from community members who attended the afternoon news conference along West Broadway.
Harteau’s appearance drew a couple of dozen neighborhood residents and others concerned about crime. Speaking after the news conference, Lisa Clemons said the community needs to look at itself.
“Until we own up and say the problem is not in the street, it’s in the homes, nothing’s going to change,” said Clemons, who called herself a north Minneapolis activist. “The problem has to be solved from inside out.”
Sheila Scott, a resident of the Lind-Bohanan neighborhood, said she believes the community needs more block clubs. She said neighbors often turn to “North Vent,” a Facebook page used to share information about crime. “It’s been incredibly effective,” she said.
Tee McClenty, a North Side activist, said, “I would just say we also need to look at the broader issue … where are the guns coming from? We need to be having real conversations about that as well.”