Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Does Minneapolis need more cops?

Mayor Frey and Chief Arradondo want to hire 100 more cops to push Minneapolis to 1,000 officers. A recent Star Tribune article notes that Minneapolis "still lags behind other Midwest cities, including Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo." The article quotes notoriously racist Minneapolis police union leader Bob Kroll saying Minneapolis should strive to match Milwaukee, a place with nearly 60% more cops per capita.

There are a few things about all these city-to-city comparisons that make me question the relevance of "cops per resident" as a statistic. Milwaukee and Kansas City have 40-45% more violent crime per capita than Minneapolis; either all that extra policing isn't working or there are more significant factors contributing to/mitigating violent crime than how many cops you have. And as long as we're comparing ourselves to large Midwestern cities, Minneapolis has slightly more cops per person than St. Paul, which is the Midwest city located just across the river (police staffing data as of 2016).

Pushing back against this call for more cops is Council Member Phillipe Cunningham who defeated City Council President Barb Johnson in 2017. Johnson was maybe the Minneapolis politician most associated with stoking crime fears to push for aggressive policing. Cunningham supports alternatives to more cops, and posed one example of a situation where more police isn't the answer: "If we're having a mental health crisis, are police the most equipped to handle a mental health crisis?"

Council President Lisa Bender responded to the Mayor's call for more cops with a statement saying, "we need a balanced approach that includes significantly more funding for reform and violence prevention."

Listening to the discussion about downtown crime and policing from the business community, you might get the sense this is about making white people comfortable in the presence of low income black and brown people. People say the transit hub and the public library are a magnet for the wrong crowd. A restaurant owner says, "Suburbanites and the 40-plus crowd are concerned about safety. Office workers are not comfortable. You are always on guard."

Based on my own understanding of where a significant majority of the current City Council is on the police issue, I think the Phillipe Cunningham position is much closer to where we'll end up than the old Barb Johnson "aggressive law enforcement" position. It seems unlikely we're about to hire 100 more cops in Minneapolis. In response to this political reality, the law-and-order crowd will stoke fears with anecdotes and descriptions of gruesome security camera videos. Meanwhile, it's hard to pin down statistics that say crime is spinning out of control.

As someone who feels safe in Minneapolis at all times, both from crime and the police, I don't want to dismiss the concerns of people who want to be and feel safe when they move around the city. But it's important we act in ways that consider the safety of everyone who lives here. Is hiring 100 more cops actually an effective way to make Minneapolis safer, when we know it would make many of our neighbors less safe?

MinnPost crime stats