A summer of unrest after George Floyd’s death ushered in unprecedented changes in policing in Minneapolis.
A Star Tribune analysis of Minneapolis Police Department daily calls shows dramatic changes in its responses, fueled in part by a rise in violence, depleted staffing levels and in some cases residents wary of calling police at all.
Typically, police activity rises with summer crime waves, but this year saw fewer resources poured into everyday policing. Riots, shootings and homicides resulted in officers addressing more violent crimes while responding to fewer routine calls.
Here are some ways policing changed in the past few months.
Staffing shortages, decreased activity
Service calls for police response through 911 or other emergency numbers noticeably declined since the end of the unrest that rocked Minneapolis. After Floyd’s death during a police encounter, the force lost more than 10% of its officers through resignation, termination, retirement or medical leave.
Logged police activity fell around 30% in June, July and August compared to last year.
A separate analysis by the city shows some of these trends continued after downtown Minneapolis riots in late August and into September.
Police activity similarly slowed after Jamar Clark was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in 2015, despite continued violent crime in the aftermath of his death.
Dr. Ronal Serpas, a criminal justice professor at Loyola University New Orleans who spent 34 years in law enforcement, attributes such declines to a “hangover effect” that often follows a high-profile police killing, like in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.
“For the many days following the death of Mr. Floyd, a significant percentage of the police department was likely taken away from its normal proactive duties,” Serpas said.
More reactive, less proactive
In the aftermath, Minneapolis police used limited resources to focus on major crimes and violence.
This summer, gunfire reports increased dramatically and violent crime jumped overall, with the city reaching 56 murders before Labor Day. Renewed rioting after a homicide suspect killed himself on Nicollet Mall led to another round of curfews and the return of the National Guard.
Meanwhile, nearly every other metric of police activity fell sharply compared to last year, and across the city.
Police stops and officer-initiated calls dropped more than half, use-of-force incidents fell by about two-thirds while traffic-related incidents and patrols became a lower priority.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role. For instance, the Downtown West neighborhood historically clocks the most police incidents as a commuter and entertainment destination. But quarantine lockdowns caused crime to plunge starting in April.
Strained responses and relations
Members of neighborhood groups online complained about slow emergency response. A class-action lawsuit alleged inadequate policing and that 911 callers were reportedly told to contact 311, the city’s help line for nonemergencies.
Police have said depleted staff levels were a factor in lagging response times. And data suggest they have focused more on 911 calls than other activities.
An analysis by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety shows 911 calls routed to the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center — the public safety access point that dispatches the city’s police, fire and ambulances — mostly evened out in early June.
Across those same weeks, 911 calls serviced by the Minneapolis Police Department flattened and stayed about 12% lower than last year’s levels. Simultaneously, calls assigned by officers reduced significantly, suggesting greater focus on emergency response.
Some residents said they are reluctant to call police amid ongoing discussion about disbanding or defunding the department.
Tabitha Montgomery, executive director of Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, said many people are hesitating to call 911 for different reasons, such as trying to weigh the importance of the call against what could happen if a situation escalates, or the “communal shame or blame” for placing the call.
Data notes: Sources of records include online Minneapolis Police Department dashboards and downloadable city of Minneapolis data sets, along with requested police calls stretching from 2017 through 2020. Total weekly MECC emergency call volume was provided by CenturyLink and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which has been tracking activity at public safety answering points (PSAPs). Analysis is principally focused on the Minneapolis Police Department rather than other law enforcement agencies operating in the city.