Like many Minneapolis voters, I have been thinking a lot about City Question 2, the proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety that would include mental health professionals and social workers in addition to armed police.
We've heard promises of reform from Chief Medaria Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey, with the goal of reducing racial disparities in policing. But this raises a fundamental question: Can we trust the MPD to reform itself? My analysis of MPD data makes it clear that the answer is no.
The MPD has not changed in response to past evidence of racial disparities. Rather than continue to wait for a self-transformation, we must replace it with a Department of Public Safety that uses a comprehensive approach to public safety and answers to the people of Minneapolis.
Over three years ago, I was part of a team that published research showing that the MPD was disproportionately stopping and searching Native American women. At the time, we found that Native American women comprised 1.42% of the population of women in Minneapolis but accounted for 6.57% of police stops of women taking place in Minneapolis. After being stopped, Native American women were far more likely to be searched than white women.
These disproportionate stops were particularly concentrated in the Third Precinct — the same precinct where George Floyd was later murdered by police and where my family and I live. Our findings were widely covered in the press and published in a peer-reviewed journal. My research team and I met with leaders from the MPD and staff from the mayor's office. Arradondo was very concerned and promised change.
Now that three years have passed, I re-examined the MPD's data on stops and searches of Native American women. Native American women consistently comprise around 6% of police stops of women in Minneapolis. This remains far higher than the estimated proportion of women in Minneapolis who are Native American (based on IPUMS American Community Survey).
The data for 2021 is not complete but as of early October, 7.6% of women stopped in 2021 are reported as Native American. After being stopped, almost 30% of Native American women are searched — far more often than women of other races. This has remained consistent from 2017 to 2019 with a very slight decrease in 2020.
Despite promises of change three years ago, there has been no meaningful change in the disparities we see in stops and searches of Native American women by Minneapolis police.
These disparities in police stops and searches do not necessarily mean that individual police officers are acting in a discriminatory way. Due to intergenerational trauma and the legacy of colonization, Native American women have higher rates of housing insecurity, substance use and being trafficked into sex work — all factors that increase interactions with the police. These are deep problems.
Police are highly trained to respond to imminent, violent threats. But police are not equipped to address these larger, ongoing social disparities that currently drive so many police interactions. A Department of Public Safety comprised of mental health professionals and social workers in addition to armed police would be able to address both these deeper needs as well as the imminent violent threats police are trained for.
The serious disparities we highlighted three years ago have not improved. The MPD has not changed and is not able to reform itself. Please join me in voting "yes" for a Department of Public Safety.
Marina Mileo Gorzig, of Minneapolis, is an assistant professor of economics and political science at St. Catherine University. The views expressed here are solely her own.