Police do too much.
This arrangement, whereby people call the police whenever something is out of sorts, is dangerous for police and civilians:
Neighbors too loud? Call the police.
Dog loose? Call the police.
Girlfriend left — with your clothes? Call the police
Man walking in the highway talking to himself? Call the police.
Drug overdose? Call the police.
You get the idea.
This expectation of police being all things all the time — social worker, psychiatrist, animal-control agent, mediator, EMT and doctor — is bad for police and bad for people who need special services.
We don’t expect doctors to rescue loose dogs or animal control to give CPR. Why do we expect police to do both? And a lot more.
Police, police unions and police advocacy groups will tell you that police are always on edge — they never know when an encounter will turn deadly in an instant. So, let’s reduce the number of encounters between police and citizens.
I can think of two good places to start: Creating nonpolice mobile intervention teams and decriminalizing certain petty, regulatory-type offenses.
First, Minneapolis, Hennepin County and the state of Minnesota have a hodgepodge of resources. But they are decentralized and underresourced. Furthermore, police often respond anyway. Create an agency that responds to things like noise complaints or mental-health concerns or wellness checks that is not composed of police, but of professionals trained for just these matters. Loud party? A trained community service officer responds to remind the noisemakers of the ordinance and can mail a fine to the homeowner if the problem persists. Leaving police entirely out of this cycle would significantly reduce potentially fraught police-citizen interactions, and the money saved could fund the response units.
Will some situations spiral out of control? Probably. Those units need a well-defined escalation path with dedicated communications for rapid response. But we don’t need to start there.
Second, offenses such as faulty taillights or an object hanging from rearview mirror can still be penalized as petty misdemeanors with fine-only citations. Or treat them and scores of other “malum in se” behaviors as secondary, not primary, offenses, meaning the police can cite someone for a nonfunctioning license plate light only if he or she is stopped for a primary offense, such as speeding or running a stoplight.
Various communities have tried some of these ideas with varying degrees of success. Minneapolis should become a model for other communities of getting police out of the jack-of-all-trades business, letting some of their duties lapse (nonprimary automotive offenses) and assigning others to heroes who respond to a suicidal teenager with mental health resources, not guns, batons and body armor.
Barry S. Edwards is a criminal-defense lawyer based in Minneapolis.