Murderapolis redux? Record number of murders in Minnesota after police-abolition effort

When I first moved to Minnesota, the Twin Cities had just recently been named “Murderapolis” thanks to waves of violence in Minneapolis. Improvements in law enforcement, and a broader decline in criminal activity nationwide, eventually transformed the urban centers into relatively safe environments. According to a new report from the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, all of those gains got lost in a single year as the state set a new record for homicides.

Minneapolis led the way, to no one’s surprise, and it wasn’t just homicides either:

The state recorded 185 murders in 2020 — a dramatic increase of 58 percent from a year earlier.

The grim tally eclipsed the previous high of 183 set in 1995 during the so-called “Murderapolis” era in the mid-1990s.

Eighty-two homicides were reported in Minneapolis, the state’s most populous city, followed by St. Paul, where 32 slayings were tallied.

Overall violent crime last year surged 16.6 percent throughout the state compared to 2019, while robberies increased 26.1 percent and aggravated assaults across jumped 21.7 percent. Arsons also rose by nearly 54 percent, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension report.

The jump in murders puts the homicide rate for Minnesota at 3.3 per 100,000 residents. The rate jumped by 50% over 2019, according to FBI data for the earlier year, but it had been slowly creeping up before that. In 2009, the homicide rate was below 1.5 per 100K, and it peaked at 2.4 per 100K in 2015 before declining a bit until 2020.

The BCA reports that violent crime jumped significantly overall, not just homicides, as the NY Post noted above:

Violent crime in Minnesota accounted for 15.9 percent of all offenses reported in 2020. There were 14,589 total violent crimes (murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults and human trafficking offenses) for the year. Compared with the 12,509 total violent crimes reported for 2019, the 2020 figure represents an increase of 16.6 percent in violent crime for the state. The number of violent crimes for the state per 100,000 population for 2020 was 257.9 while in 2019 there were 221.8 per 100,000 population.

• Murder – Offenses involving murder totaled 185 in 2020 in Minnesota compared to 117 in 2019, an increase of 58.1 percent.

• Rape – There were 2,222 rapes reported in 2020 and 2,431 in 2019, a decrease of 8.6 percent.

• Robbery – There were 3,885 robberies reported in 2020 and 3,081 in 2019, an increase of 26.1 percent.

• Aggravated Assault – Offenses involving aggravated assault totaled 8,203 in 2020 in Minnesota compared to 6,742 in 2019, an increase of 21.7 percent.

• Human Trafficking – Commercial Sex Acts – There were 81 commercial sex acts reported in 2020 and 128 in 2019, a decrease of 36.7 percent.2

• Human Trafficking – Involuntary Servitude – There were 13 involuntary servitude incidents reported in 2020 and 10 in 2019.

For comparison purposes, here’s a chart from the FBI on overall violent crime rates, in Minnesota and the US, for the preceding decade. The trend had been relatively flat in the state until last year:

Clearly, 2020 became a dramatic outlier for some reason. Could it have been the pandemic lockdowns? The George Floyd riots? The effort in Minneapolis to abolish its own police force and the resultant massive attrition at the Minneapolis PD? The answer to all of these can be yes. In fact, it would be laughable to assert one narrow cause for so much violence and crime in a year with so many unprecedented social impacts.

With that said, however, the solution to the problem should be obvious. We defeated high-crime rates from the 196os-1980s by increasing resources for law enforcement and refining methods for pursuing order, such as resource-rich community policing. Enforcement and prosecution of even minor violations removed the impunity criminals sensed in the earlier era and signaled low tolerance for criminality. The “broken windows policing” strategy transformed New York City and other urban areas, allowing for growth and expansion to defeat decay and despair. Can we improve policing? Certainly, but 2020 shows we cannot function without robust and comprehensive law enforcement, especially in high-density population environments.

The detour back into Murderapolis has been tragic, all the more so because it has been unnecessary. We already learned these lessons a generation ago. How many people have died because we willfully ignored those lessons in 2020?