Minneapolis, like any major metropolitan city, has serious crime. A 2019 analysis of five years of crime data from every neighborhood showed that parts of the city have gotten more dangerous. Downtown East recorded 304 serious or violent crimes. A 2020 report shows that crime in Downtown East is skyrocketing, with serious crime such as robbery, burglary and assault showing an increase of 70%. While Downtown West has shown only modest increase in crime and the North Side has shown a decrease in violent crime, some of the areas south of downtown have become hotbeds for violence.
The Minneapolis Crime Rate Report summarizes the types of criminal activity the Police Department addresses, including aggravated assault, arson, burglary, larceny and theft, motor vehicle theft, murder, manslaughter, rape and robbery. The city is staffed with police officers to protect business and residents from these types of crimes.
The Minneapolis charter provides an important protection for residents and business, requiring that the municipality will have a police unit to address serious and violent crime. The charter states that the City Council “must fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident, and provide for those employees’ compensation.” Based on the latest census data, that amounts to roughly 730 police employees. As of June 1, the Police Department had 892 sworn officers and 175 nonsworn officers.
The City Council is proposing to change the charter to deal with police brutality and racism. These are legitimate issues to address. However, instead of dealing with the problems within the Police Department, council members want the change the charter so they could defund and eliminate the Police Department. Without specifying the plan, they only say it would be “transformative,” whatever that means.
A number of the City Council members have indicated publicly that they intend to eliminate the Police Department and have no intentions of replacing it. They would fund mental health and other social services instead. For example, Council Member Phillipe Cunningham has said after defunding the Police Department, he would not support replacing the existing department with another. Council Member Jeremiah Ellison has said that the charter needs to eliminate a requirement for a Police Department for their plan to go forward. Many state they want a police-free future.
The City Council seems to be composed of people with longstanding personal animosity toward police or with people with adolescent fantasies that crime will magically vanish with an elimination of the police.
Although changing policies in policing strategies are welcome, talk of eliminating law enforcement in Minneapolis is irresponsible. Defunding or abolishing the Police Department won’t improve public safety. While it may be reasonable to fund mental health and social services and it certainly is important to reform the department, violent and serious crime will not go away with defunding.
What business would want to stay in a community that does not provide law enforcement services to deal with violent and serious crime? Would the business call a social worker about a break-in? Would residents call a social worker to deal with assault, rape, burglary, murder, manslaughter or motor vehicle theft? Would the residents have to arm themselves to protect themselves from criminals?
As the state’s largest city with more that 425,000 residents, Minneapolis needs a highly functioning police force to protect residents and businesses. It is important to protect businesses that provide jobs and services to the community.
There are many reasonable proposals to reform the Police Department: banning chokeholds, prohibiting no-knock warrants, changing recruiting policies, ceasing preferential hiring of ex-military who have focused on how to kill, providing more extensive de-escalation training, providing incentives for officers to live in the city, making it easier to discipline and dismiss problem officers, changing the Minnesota Public Employment Labor Relations Act so that police officers are no longer covered by unions with a right to arbitration that undercuts the disciplinary capacity of the department, and creating a national registry of disciplinary outcomes of police discipline.
However, none of these proposals involve changing the city charter to permit the defunding of the Police Department. Please do not agree to a change to the charter to permit this City Council from eliminating the Police Department.
Susan Lauer lives in Minneapolis.