I wanted to learn firsthand what it is like to be a Minneapolis cop at this moment on the North Side. So on a recent Friday I scheduled a ride-along.
The officer picked me up at 7 p.m., and I was handed a lawsuit waiver and a bulletproof vest. In that eight-hour shift we responded to many calls, including shots fired, drug overdoses, noise complaints, domestic abuse, missing person reports, stolen vehicles, burglaries, armed robberies and information about illegal guns.
We began at Merwin's Liquor, in an area known for drug dealing, primarily heroin and crack. To my surprise, the officer knew many people by their first names, and they knew him by his first name. The respect they had for this officer was authentic. He warned them to leave. Many complained that they weren't up to anything, but the officer reminded them he knew what was happening.
They elected to go elsewhere to continue their hustle.
Another surprise was the amount of drug dealing I witnessed. Broadway and Lyndale, 12th and Logan, 12th and Knox, 29th and Oliver, 30th and Oliver, and many other locations. In addition to the active drug dealing, what surprised me was how many people had warrants out for their arrests for drug trafficking, gun charges, domestics, etc.
I asked the officer if it was normal for so many people to skip out on the court, and he replied, "Absolutely." So I asked the obvious question: Why didn't he just pull up and arrest these individuals?
He told me he had chased a fugitive wanted on multiple drug and gun charges at a laundromat earlier in the day, but the man escaped. He could spend his entire shift chasing after one or two people, but many other calls for help would have to go ignored.
He would also need backup to make many arrests, and our shift had only seven squad cars patrolling the entire North Side. Yes, seven squad cars patrolling a community with 40,000 people and the state'shighest crime rates.
I saw with my own eyes why we have so many unsolved crimes and poor responses to calls for help. There are not enough police officers on the street. Calls go unanswered, crimes go unsolved, and there is no time to build relationships between the police and the community.
I was also surprised by the number of times suspects were not pursued due to new MPD pursuit policies. We got a call that someone had stolen a blue Honda Civic. We spotted it and attempted to pull it over, but it turned down a residential street going about 80 mph, and we had to let it go.
Another time, we were tipped off that someone was dealing heroin and had an illegal firearm. Again, we spotted them and attempted to pull over their car. But they took off, running multiple stoplights, and we had to let them go.
I asked the officer what he thought the role of policing was. He said the job of police is to respond to 911 calls and nothing more. Police don't have time for anything else. It was apparent to me that this officer wanted to do more investigating to solve gun-related crimes, but he admitted the department does not have the resources to solve these murders.
I believe we can invest in mental health services, drug addiction services, alternative response teams, and a community-centered public safety approach while maintaining a robust and culturally competent police force.
Unfortunately, the voices of a few have overshadowed the masses' desires. Most residents want the police. Still, they want the police to treat them fairly and respectfully, and they want some apparatus to hold them accountable when they neglect the public trust.
I firmly believe that with intentionality, hard work and dedication, we can reform the police department to reflect the values of our community.
I invite anyone who cares about policing in our community to see what I saw and do a ride-along with the police. It will open your eyes.
Elijah Norris-Holliday is an independent candidate for the Minneapolis City Council in the 5th Ward.