Is CNN trying to pave the way for the abolishment of the Minneapolis Police Department? One might get that idea looking at a story that they tossed out today. In it, they discuss whether or not such a plan is feasible and dig up a couple of examples of “cities” that have done the same thing in the past, with an eye toward how things worked out in the aftermath. I found this story to be particularly ripe for a closer look by yours truly because I’ve lived quite close to and visited both of them. I even worked at an office based in one of them for a few years. And I’m here to tell you that there’s more to each of these stories than meets the eye from CNN’s descriptions.
The first one is Camden, New Jersey. I lived about ten miles from there for a few years back in the eighties and it’s an experience I would prefer to be able to forget. Camden is far smaller than Minneapolis, but at roughly 75,000 people I suppose it still qualifies as a city. And as CNN notes, it’s true that they did, in fact, break up their entire police department in 2012.
Last week, Minneapolis officials confirmed they were considering a fairly rare course of action: disbanding the city police department. It’s not the first locale to break up a department, but no cities as populous have ever attempted it. Minneapolis City Council members haven’t specified what or who will replace it if the department disband.
Camden, New Jersey, may be the closest thing to a case study they can get.
The city, home to a population about 17% of Minneapolis’ size, dissolved its police department in 2012 and replaced it with an entirely new one after corruption rendered the existing agency unfixable.
Back when I lived and worked in the area, Camden was, paraphrasing a description our President might choose, nothing short of a craphole. It was a war zone. Getting out of your car anywhere in the city at night was something only undertaken by people who had grown tired of life. It was divided into a large number of sections of gang turf, roughly broken up by gangs of various nationalities. The police were generally afraid to go out on foot there at night.
Yes, in 2012, Camden’s totally dysfunctional police department was dismissed. But unlike what Minneapolis is considering, it was only done so it could be immediately replaced by a new police department under new leadership. (They did hire back roughly 100 of their old officers, though.) So the total time that Camden was actually “without” a police department was the period of time it took to sign a few papers. Under new leadership, they have managed to decrease the crime rate by more than half, so God bless them. Of course, considering where that rate started, it’s still a pretty dangerous place to go for a stroll.
The second “city” that’s mentioned in the article is Deposit, New York. That’s less than an hour from where I live now. We drive past it regularly and have even found the occasional reason to go there. And as CNN correctly notes, they “dissolved” their police department just this year.
Earlier this year, the village of Deposit, New York, dissolved its department because it cost $200,000 per year. Now, a single sheriff’s deputy is assigned to the village, CNN affiliate WICZ reported.
Here’s the thing to know about Deposit, New York. It has a total population of 250. No, I don’t mean 250 thousand. I mean 250 men women and children, give or take a few. The number of both horses and cows there is considerably larger. If you click on this link it will take you to a Google Maps aerial photo of the village. I will warn you in advance that the picture is zoomed in to the point where the entire area displayed is roughly two miles across. The street light (singular) in the center of town functions adequately and you’ll rarely be tied up in traffic unless some of the horses managed to get loose from the stables on the north side of town.
So, yes. Deposit was spending roughly $200K per year on maintaining a functional police force and they couldn’t afford it. But given that you can walk that entire area in roughly half an hour at a leisurely pace, one sheriff with the backup of the nearby State Police barracks is pretty much all they need. Do you suppose the Sheriff is very busy? A quick glance at City Data will show you that the listed average crime rate for Deposit, New York is… zero. Going back the past ten years on that chart you will see that there have been zero murders, zero rapes, zero robberies and one assault. (But to be fair to the suspect, Bob had downed a couple of beers first and Herb did say something about the size of Bob’s wife’s posterior.) There were, admittedly, six burglaries in 2013, a virtual crime wave by Deposit standards.
Oh, just in case you’re considering visiting this unprotected hamlet to commit some crimes of your own, I should probably warn you about one thing. Everyone in Deposit has guns. The children have guns. I’m pretty sure a couple of the dogs are armed. Finding a stranger prowling around on their property uninvited probably won’t end well.
So anyway, neither of these stories offer us any insight into what would happen if you suddenly pulled the plug on the police in a city of 425,000 souls like Minneapolis, which already has a history of violence and crime. Neither the experiences of the people of Camden or Deposit are remotely similar.