Has the steam run out of #DefundthePolice at its epicenter? Now that Minneapolis has returned to a quieter state, significant concerns have emerged about the reactionary steps taken by the city council in the wake of the George Floyd homicide. In fact, police calls have not just dropped after the riots, they have dropped to below-norm levels, the Star Tribune reports today:
While demonstrations continue nationwide following the deaths of George Floyd and other black people at police hands, Minneapolis call data show the city is quieter following an initial surge of unrest.
And even as the city reopens after months of pandemic-related shutdowns, police reports have fallen below typical levels. …
Police incidents and stops, along with confirmed fires, are now down for June compared to last year. By contrast, calls to 311, the nonemergency line, dramatically increased as neighborhoods assessed property damage, streets were cleaned up and residents surveyed the initial aftermath.
It’s unclear whether this decline in police incidents is related to residents making fewer calls to authorities, less activity being recorded, or to relatively quieter summer days during an ongoing pandemic where many events are still canceled and some businesses remain closed.
The Strib offers this chart comparing calls this year to 2019 levels. As shown, the incident levels have dramatically decreased even year-on-year, including (albeit less dramatically) calls for the fire department:
Perhaps the city’s residents have begun to effect their own version of police reform by simply not involving them in disputes. This might also relate to the destruction of businesses and other operations in Minneapolis, as there is now less property to defend. For whatever reason, however, it seems clear that the city has gotten significantly more quiet over the last couple of weeks and that the rhetorical smoke might be clearing as a result.
That clarity got a little more pointed in a meeting of the city’s downtown residents and business owners last night. The association’s officers complained about the proposal for a charter change to replace the police department for an ambiguous notion of a “new public safety model,” calling it “reckless.” Policing needs reform in the city, not elimination, they argued:
The meeting was sponsored by the Minneapolis Downtown Neighborhood Association, which covers the Downtown West and East neighborhoods. Its website said it represents the interests of 150,000 people who live, work and own property in the area.
Board member Joe Tamburino, who frequently advocates for more downtown safety and police officers, said the City Council’s announcement of a possible charter change for a new public safety model was “reckless” and “sent shock waves” to residents.
Board vice chairman Kevin Frazell said he knows something has to be changed with the Police Department, but hoped that neighborhoods could come together to discuss it. “I hear words like defund, abolish and dismantle, but there isn’t a common definition of what these mean,” he said. “Before voters go to the polls to change the charter, we need to know what will happen. Fear, anger and trauma can’t be the guides for a new public safety department.”
That’s a direct slap at council president Lisa Bender and her allies, who tried to argue for a charter change first before working on the “new public safety model.” The current charter requires the city to field and fund a police department in a pretty specific fashion, and any attempt to dismantle it would require voters to approve an amendment repealing those provisions. Bender essentially wants voters to approve a pig in a poke, so to speak, by granting the council authority to dismantle the police department without specifying what would replace it. The MDNA has called shenanigans on that kind of blank-check approach.
This is a major rebuke to that approach. The MDNA represents a significant political bloc within the 420,000-plus residents of Minneapolis, and they’re hardly the only people who find themselves nonplussed at the idea of dismantling the police department. After watching what happened when police withdrew in the wake of Floyd’s homicide while in police custody — and perhaps in watching what’s happening in Seattle — that reticence is not just understandable, it’s entirely rational.
The city council seems to have gotten out over its skis with its charter-change proposal. Rep. Pete Stauber, the Republican from MN-08 who served 23 years in law enforcement before running for office, laid out a better path in today’s Strib. Minneapolis needs reform in holding bad officers accountable, but what it truly needs is the kind of community policing that will require more officers on the street rather than fewer:
Changes also must be made to help police chiefs fire bad police officers. Currently, in Minnesota, police departments are public employers and therefore state law allows any termination to be appealed. This process, called arbitration, is all too often the flip of a coin and allows officers who consciously and continuously make egregious mistakes to return to policing. This system must be reformed.
During my 23 years on the police force, I became an expert in community policing. When community policing practices are properly implemented, you do not end up policing your community, you end up policing with your community. To build up trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, it is crucial that police have meaningful interactions with their community on a regular basis.
Therefore, I believe one of the most important steps going forward is requiring police departments to implement a set of community policing standards, using best practices that allow officers to be viewed as participants in the community rather than just responders to calls for service. Any federal funding that is distributed must follow the implementation of community policing best practices.
As violent riots and civil unrest took place in the Twin Cities and across the nation, countless attacks on law enforcement and citizens occurred without repercussion. Despite what the Minneapolis City Council might think, law enforcement is necessary, and abolishing the Minneapolis Police Department is not the answer. We need to inspire the best and the brightest to come forward to serve as police in our communities, but it will be impossible to do so if violence against law enforcement is tolerated and if we don’t recognize most of our police officers are of good character.
Indeed. Perhaps Bender and her allies should spend less time pandering to the extremists, and more time listening to the vast majority of their constituents. Better yet, perhaps those constituents should focus on electing council members and other officials who act responsibly and work toward accountability. That is one reform that is long overdue in Minneapolis.