Perched on the stoop of her north Minneapolis home, Danell Christner reflected on the time a group of youths broke into her just-bought 2018 Nissan Altima, smashing windows and flattening two of its tires.
She wondered whether having more police officers patrolling her corner in the Hawthorne neighborhood could have prevented the incident. “They need to,” she said. “There’s too much stuff going on around here and they don’t catch it.”
But she also worried that an increased police presence would only lead to more harassment of black residents — who, she says, already get hassled regularly by officers while walking down the street or shooting hoops at nearby Farview Park. Even if many don’t end in arrest, she says, such encounters only add to residents’ wariness of the law.
Christner’s experience reflects the continuing dilemma in neighborhoods like Hawthorne, where residents find themselves caught between crime and what some see as overzealous policing. And yet, their voices are often missing from the intense debate consuming Minneapolis about whether the city needs more police officers — and if so, how many?
The Hawthorne neighborhood — bounded by Broadway Avenue to the south, Lowry Avenue to the north, N. Emerson Avenue to the west and the Mississippi River to the east — is among the city’s most violent, with 120 reports of gunfire there last year. And a Star Tribune analysis of available Police Department data showed that officers used force on residents at higher rates there — about 250 instances over the past 10 years — than nearly every other area outside of downtown Minneapolis.
In Hawthorne, the proposal to hire more cops was met with concern and skepticism among residents, who were also wary of outsiders speaking out against police without offering serious solutions to the area’s violence. And with budget talks heating up, Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposal for 14 additional cops has stirred tensions on the City Council, with some members suggesting the department might do better to examine its staffing priorities before asking for more money. Others argued that the number falls far short of how many officers are needed to adequately patrol a fast-growing city like Minneapolis.
Business leaders have pleaded for more police protection downtown after a long summer of violence, culminating with a pair of viral surveillance videos of people being violently assaulted and robbed while leaving downtown bars. Meanwhile, activists continue to lobby for divesting from policing, which they argue exacerbates racial disparities.
Leila Mayfield understands both sides, but her more immediate concern was the seeming lack of attention to drug activity at a nearby gas station where she gets “bombarded about buying marijuana” whenever she stops to fill up her tank. She also recalled the frustration she felt waiting for police to show up after her apartment above New Bethel Church was burglarized.
She had gone out to run errands that day, leaving the front door unlocked while her children napped and her husband was out back mowing the lawn, and someone walked in and stole cellphones, cash and credit cards that were sitting on her desk, she says.
“When I called the police, it took them 10 minutes to respond and they’re right down the corner,” Mayfield said.
Still, she admitted that she was skeptical of Chief Medaria Arradondo’s proposal for hiring 400 new officers by 2025.
“In one sense we do [need more officers] because there are kids getting hurt,” she said, referring to recent shootings in the area. “On the other hand, we don’t need any more bad cops.”
Arradondo has said that ensuring that his officers are acting in a “procedurally just” manner while also responding to crime calls is one of the many challenges he faces in changing the culture of the department. But, he told council members earlier this year that without hiring more officers to keep pace with population growth — Minneapolis has added more than 40,000 new residents since 2010 — his successor in the chief’s office would face a “very, very difficult time” in continuing to carry out reforms.
Mayfield said she remembered a time when most people knew the beat cops assigned to the community, who would stop to chat with residents and pass out football cards to the neighborhood kids. But she also recognizes that officers sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the hectic pace of the crime-heavy summer months, which leaves little time for getting out of their squads and engaging with residents.
“I know that they have a lot of challenges, too, but I think when they put that suit on in the morning, and they put that badge on, they forget that they are human,” she said.
Department officials argue that more officers are needed, despite falling crime rates, as police are increasingly being asked to address issues arising from social conditions — like poverty, inadequate housing and isolation — that are beyond their control. Minneapolis, like other departments nationally, is also having a tougher time recruiting and hanging on to qualified officers at a time when the profession is coming under increasing scrutiny.
The heavier workloads not only result in slower response times, but also take a physical and psychological toll on police, officials say.
Waiting for the northbound No. 22 bus at Farview Park one recent afternoon, Isaiah Whitfield said the stigma of wearing the blue uniform has kept many black people from applying to police jobs so they could change the department from the inside.
“I don’t think we need more, I think we need more black people to be police officers,” he said. “There’s no way that we can change anything if we’re not inside.”
Star Tribune data journalist Jeff Hargarten contributed to this report.