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Minneapolis City Council Members Complain of Rising Crime Months after Trying to Defund Police Department

Police car lights at night. (Photo via Getty Images)

Minneapolis City Council members complained of rising crime rates in the city and asked the city’s police chief what he is doing about it during a Tuesday meeting on police reform, months after the council proposed dismantling the police department.

Council members told police chief Medaria Arradondo that their constituents have reported seeing and hearing street racing which sometimes results in crashes, daylight carjackings, robberies, assaults and shootings, according to an MPR News report.

“Residents are asking, ‘Where are the police’?” said newly elected council member Jamal Osman who has been swamped by resident complaints that calls for police are going unanswered.

“That is the only public safety option they have at the moment. MPD. They rely on MPD. And they are saying they are nowhere to be seen,” Osman said.

In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, the City Council voted to remove the requirement to maintain a police department form the city charter — the first step in a longer process to change the charter. The council’s proposal to dismantle the police department was set to be on the November ballot until the Minneapolis Charter Commission voted last month to take additional time in reviewing the plan.

The council proposed replacing the police department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention which would provide a “holistic, public health-oriented approach,” and a Division of Law Enforcement Services.

While the council members floated the idea of ridding the city of its police department, the city has been plagued by months of higher-than-usual crime.

Violent crimes such as assaults, robberies and homicides as well as property crimes like burglaries and auto thefts are up compared to 2019, according to MPD crime data reviewed by MPR. More people have been killed in the city in the first nine months of this year than all of last year.

The police department has added more officers to patrol and investigative duties and cracked down on robberies, among other measures to fight the increase in crime, the police chief told the council.

Council president Lisa Bender, who in June had said fear of dismantling the police department comes from “a place of privilege,” accused officers of being defiant in the Tuesday meeting, saying her constituents have said officers have admitted that they’re deliberately not arresting people who are committing crimes. 

“This is not new,” Bender said. “But it is very concerning in the current context.” 

Arradondo called the allegations “troubling to hear,” and vowed to speak with commanders and the heads of each precinct. 

“We need to make sure that our communities know that we are going to be there,” Arradondo said. “That we’re going to be responsive. We’ve taken an oath to do that.”

Council members said officers have told residents that they are overworked and understaffed as around 100 officers have left the department or taken leave since the beginning of 2020 — more than double the usual number.

The violence has not spared even areas of the city which are normally considered safe, leaving constituents feeling “terrorized.”

The department recently arrested two groups of teenagers that had been the source of crime in far south central Minneapolis, where recent carjackings and robberies of businesses have scared residents and business owners.

Still, council member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents the 4th Ward, where a 17-year-old was fatally shot on Monday, doubled down on the council’s approach to crime fighting and prevention, underscoring the importance, in his view, of instituting public health-based approaches to violence prevention.

He supports the development of a new community safety agency to replace the police department and criticized some of his fellow council members for flip-flopping in light of the increase in crime.

“What I am sort of flabbergasted by right now is colleagues, who a very short time ago were calling for abolition, are now suggesting we should be putting more resources and funding into MPD,” Cunningham said.

The council recently divested more than $1 million from the police budget to pay for “violence interrupters” to intervene and defuse potentially violent confrontations.

“If we have these systems in place we are getting ahead of the violence,” said Cunningham.  “That’s why I have advocated so strongly for the violence interrupters, because if they are interrupting the violence before the guns are being fired, then the MPD doesn’t have to respond to that violence.”

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