Despite a smattering of vocal community opposition, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and the City Council made the right call to bolster the city’s police force and its community relations efforts. On Wednesday, the council approved a 2017 budget that includes adding 15 officers.
The vote came a week after a public hearing at which more than two dozen people urged the council to keep the force at its current level and instead use the funds on violence-prevention efforts. Among those testifying at the hearing were members of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), who argued against bringing on more cops in light of local and national discussions about the fatal shootings of unarmed black men and other concerns about policing methods.
Along with other grass-roots groups nationally, NOC contends that more cops can lead to more police-involved shootings. The money spent on hiring more officers, they say, would be better spent on youth and community needs — and on treating crime like a public health problem that can be prevented before it happens.
Yet the case for more cops on Minneapolis streets is strong and persuasive. Violent crime is rising citywide, and the number of victims wounded by guns is up 27 percent this year. And while NOC protests hiring, other neighborhood organizations have been pleading for more of a police presence. Effective community policing requires officers to get out of their squads, walk beats and get to know the people they serve. To do that, more cops are needed.
Minneapolis is now authorized for 862 officers — 100 fewer than before budget cuts in 2009 — so the department is hardly overstaffed. Not only should there be more officers, but they should be better equipped to do the kind of community work that enhances public safety and results in fewer confrontations that are dangerous for community members and the police.
To that end, the 2017 budget commits more than $1.3 million for 12 officers dedicated to community policing and three as part of a police/mental health co-responder pilot program; more than $1 million for community-based strategies to improve public safety, and more than $1 million annually for an ongoing community service officer class to help more people of color join the Police Department.
As Hodges has noted, it’s understandable that some are skeptical of police hiring, given the local and national concerns about police-involved shootings. But the two responses to fighting crime embraced by Minneapolis — hiring more officers and improving community relations — are not mutually exclusive. Both are needed to make the city a safer place.