Three months after their majority pledged to end the city’s police department, the Minneapolis City Council pressed chief Medaria Arradondo for a plan to address crime in their wards in their most forceful questioning of him yet.
Council President Lisa Bender described conversations with constituents who said responding patrol officers told them that they weren’t enforcing laws and that the bloodshed would continue unless the city hired more police, an observation echoed by several of her colleagues.
“This is not new, but it is very concerning in the current context. So, I think there are a number of possible explanations for this. I think it’s possible they are essentially campaigning … because they don’t support the council member or, in some cases, the mayor, or perhaps they think that they are making the case for more resources for the department,” said Bender, who represents the 10th Ward in south Minneapolis. “I can tell you in my ward, it is having the opposite effect. It is making people even more frustrated with the department. … How do we get this under control?”
Arradondo called her comments “troubling to hear” and promised he would address the issue with departmental supervisors. Noting that some residents feel apprehensive about calling police and that others have said they felt they were being held hostage by the current environment, Arradondo said, many people will need to make compromises while they work to reimagine public safety. That could, he said, include council members.
“That may mean you making commitments that might be uncomfortable for some of those constituents that you represent, but if your ultimate goal is to have true community safety, I will tell you right now, we have to work together in that effort,” he said.
As the discussion about crime continued, Council Member Phillipe Cunningham pointed out that some of his colleagues appeared to be contradicting earlier statements in favor of ending the department.
“What I am sort of flabbergasted by is … colleagues who a very short time ago who were calling for abolition, who are now suggesting that we should be putting more funding and resources into MPD,” said Cunningham, whose ward includes North Side neighborhoods that have been among the hardest hit by the recent violence. “We know that this is not producing different outcomes.”
According to police crime statistics through Sept. 9, serious crimes such as robbery, assault and burglary are above their five-year averages, with the exception of rapes and larcenies. The city’s 59 homicides have nearly doubled their year-to-date average since 2015, the statistics show.
Shift in focus
The tone and focus of the council’s conversations on policing have shifted several times since George Floyd’s death — and they are far from over. The city will begin ramping up its 2021 budgeting process next week, providing the next chances for council members to try to push through substantial changes, if they decide they want to do that.
The discussion comes at a critical time for the department, which found itself in the international spotlight after Floyd’s death at the hands of four since-fired officers who are now facing criminal charges. In the intervening months, Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey have implemented a series of reforms aimed at improving the department’s practices and building public confidence, even as calls grew for the department’s abolishment.
Less than two weeks after Floyd’s death, nine council members gathered in Powderhorn Park and promised to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.” A smaller group of them later introduced a proposal that would allow the city to create a new community safety department in which police would be optional.
With their proposal delayed in a review by the Charter Commission, violence on the uptick, and polling showing the plan to reduce the police force lacked majority support, an increasing number of council members began trying to reassure residents that police will continue to be a part of any revamped safety system.
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, council members listened intently as Arradondo started discussing the department’s responses to crime trends in each of the city’s five precincts.
Council Member Andrew Johnson wondered what was being done about a series of stickups in the 12th Ward and beyond.
His colleague Steve Fletcher, who represents the Third Ward, asked how police planned to address the street racing that had spread citywide.
Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins questioned the police response to ongoing “gun violence, drug dealing, intimidation, extortion” that had made the area surrounding the Floyd memorial site a “no-go zone,” even for some residents.
Throughout the two-hour hearing, council members peppered Arradondo with questions ranging from slow response times and juvenile diversion services to the dissolution of specialized units like the Violent Criminal Apprehension Team.
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, one of the chief proponents of dismantling the police department, said he felt that the recent crime surge only reinforced the idea that the current system of public safety was ineffective.
“You named the strategies and the resources that we’re deploying … but does this type of enforcement action, is it able to have any kind of effect? It seems like we pour money into it, but we’re not seeing it have an effect,” Ellison said.
“What people want to know is MPD’s response, they want to know what you’re doing with your $185 million budget,” said 11th Ward Council Member Jeremy Schroeder. “Right now when folks are asking why the response time takes so long, or why can’t you work that investigation, the only response that we’re getting is that we don’t have the capacity.”
Arradondo said he’d like to see deeper research into the root causes of community and police violence.
“Too often, we as police departments, we are dealing in a reactionary mode. We have oftentimes come to finding crime as opposed to preventing it,” he conceded. “If we just stayed status quo, right now, we will end this year with numbers that are absolutely unconscionable about what we should have in terms of community violence, and we don’t do a deep dive as a city as to what caused all of those.”