MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau continued trying to build her reputation as a leader on the gun violence issue, telling law enforcement leaders from around the Midwest that they must improve regional cooperation.
“There are some alarming trends with gun violence, and we need to come together as a region to discuss strategies as these trends are not simply local issues,” Harteau said Thursday. “We constantly have to ask ourselves ‘What more can we do?’ It drives us everyday, and it’s brought us here to Milwaukee this week.”
She told the roomful of police, prosecutors and gun experts that the stakes were high for law enforcement agencies if they fail to work together in getting firearms off the streets.
“The Midwest has the opportunity to really set the stage, set the tone and take a look at what are the next steps,” she said.
Minneapolis has gained a reputation as a leader in curbing violence, highlighted when President Obama visited last year to praise the city’s aggressive efforts as he pushed for tougher restrictions on gun ownership. But Harteau’s comments came at an uncertain time back home as the city struggled with a wave of gun violence over the summer and mounting political pressure to get it under control. The chief has authorized overtime to beef up enforcement and is desperately trying to refill a depleted force hit by a wave of retirements.
The summit highlighted how the problems facing Minneapolis are similar to those in other cities.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn singled poverty, education and lack of job opportunities as just some of the social issues contributing to gun violence, most of which is concentrated in three of the city’s poorest districts — where, as he put it, “there’s the most overall social dysfunction.”
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, agreed that elected officials and police should work more closely together in “striking a balance between finding ways to intervene in gun violence and do it with the support of the community.”
“Minneapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee, they’ve been very successful in reducing homicides, in reducing gun crimes,” Wexler said. “The challenging part is to find ways to do it and maintain the public trust.”
Harteau was joined by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who joined other local leaders in a call to introduce new legislative, educational and political strategies to end gun violence.
The mayor said Americans have a complex relationship with firearms that make the issue that much more bedeviling.
“The reality is that we’ve become a country where guns are a part of our very livelihood,” she said.
“There’s a high degree of frustration that the country is not doing more to stem gun violence legislatively,” Wexler said. “Trying to pass any kind of anti-gun legislation has been radioactive.”
He said he does not see an easy or clear political solution, particularly as Obama’s efforts have stalled.
“So it’s very frustrating; the disconnect about what’s going on here, in Milwaukee, in Chicago and all the other cities, and Washington. That was a big source of frustration.”
Minnesota has taken some small steps. Last spring, a bipartisan coalition of legislators passed a measure to ensure convicted stalkers and domestic abusers cannot own firearms.
It was a small, but significant piece of legislation in a political arena where the gun issue often became bitterly divisive and deadlocked.
“I have tried to have the conversation in a nonexplosive manner,” said Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park.
The calls for cooperation come at a precarious time for Minneapolis police.
While homicides are considerably down, there have been 35 percent more nonfatal shootings so far this year, according to police statistics presented Thursday. Minneapolis has had 150 nonfatal shootings through the end of August, compared with 111 during the same period in 2013.
The city is also on pace to see a 19 percent rise in aggravated assaults with firearms, the statistics show.
Harteau pointed out that police have seized 491 guns in the first eight months of the year, compared with 472 weapons in the same period a year ago, a four percent increase.
The majority, about 65 percent, of the guns were seized in the Fourth Precinct, which encompasses the North Side, followed by 16 percent confiscated in the Third Precinct in south Minneapolis, statistics show.
Officials have credited the work of police and the department’s community partnerships with helping the city reduce crime, including the use of citizen patrols of neighborhoods where gunfire is common. This came partly in response to a recent report that police were taking longer on average to respond to top priority calls, particularly when they originated on the North Side.
“We are blessed in Minneapolis that we have a very active and activated grass roots community,” Hodges said. “We have a deep and wide network of organizations of people who are deeply invested in our city.”
But the Police Department has had to rely on better technology, too.
The department also just expanded its ShotSpotter system, which recognizes the sound of gunfire and alerts police, to cover another 2.1 square miles.
“The Minneapolis Police Department has really focused on combating gun violence over the past couple of years,” Harteau said. “This is a national issue and a regional approach is necessary to have a sustaining impact.”