Minneapolis is in the news for the wrong reasons. Gun violence has increased from 1,478 incidents in 2014 to 2,475 in 2016, with shootings more than doubling, particularly near downtown. Meanwhile, police-community relations have deteriorated to the point where many residents, especially in communities of color, do not feel safe calling 911. Both problems affect all residents of our city, and both need to be addressed swiftly.
My vision for Minneapolis rejects the false choice between justice and safety, and instead demands both. It’s patently false to say that we can only have safety in the form of a militarized Police Department that resorts to harassment, racial profiling and excessive force to fight crime. I equally reject another extreme — the claim of those who say that police accountability can only be guaranteed through untenable policies like disarming police.
Safety and justice are intrinsically linked, and neither will be accomplished through ideological purity tests and taglines without substance.
Rejecting this false choice starts with hiring more police officers. If we want to improve police-community relations, we need to give officers the time to engage with the community. Right now, many officers are caught running from 911 call to 911 call. Public interactions are terse and stressed, and they fail to facilitate the kind of positive experience that can shift the public perception of our Police Department. Moreover, due to incredibly broad coverage areas and ever-shifting schedules, any fragile police-community relationships developed in one day are generally lost in the next.
Creating and retaining relationships necessitates regular, positive interaction through narrower beats and consistent schedules. This requires hiring more sworn officers; the single additional officer funded in Mayor Betsy Hodges’ budget does not begin to tackle the problem. Increasing our hiring also will allow us to add more officers of color to create a police force that more closely resembles our city.
While we need more officers to strengthen safety and community policing, we also must expect more accountability. Our residents’ lack of trust in the Police Department is not a baseless suspicion. The mayor has neglected to implement the reforms needed to bridge the divide between our communities and the police. Less than a month before Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s death, the Hodges administration failed to implement recommendations that would have restricted officers’ authority to use deadly force. The next mayor should correct course and require that police officers exhaust all reasonable alternatives before using deadly force and hold officers accountable who unnecessarily create a deadly force situation.
The fact that the officers’ body cameras were not on when Justine Ruszczyk Damond was shot underlines that our body camera policy was also insufficient. Disturbingly, the recent audit of the body camera program showed that nearly 30 percent of officers were still not turning on their cameras as required even after Justine’s death and the international outcry that ensued. A rebuttable presumption of misconduct and real consequences for noncompliance are critical to making this policy work.
I believe the distrust created by these policy failures has directly impaired our ability to address rising violent crime in Minneapolis. When people do not feel safe interacting with police or calling 911, it limits officers’ ability to do community policing and investigative work. Safety is best when police work with the community, but any success is contingent on community members first being able to trust law enforcement.
Safe communities aren’t just borne of crime and safety policy — housing, education and other factors are critical. But the mayor has an obligation both to plan for the future and to deal with problems today. Hiring more officers, implementing a stronger body camera policy and reforming the use-of-force policy are just some of the policing changes that the next mayor must pursue. These changes are controversial, but fixing our Police Department requires that candidates offer specific solutions rather than engage in political gamesmanship or shirk from putting forward detailed proposals.
Instead of accepting a false choice between safety and justice, I ask Minneapolis to join me in imagining a city where citizens and officers can build the accountability and trust needed to make our city safe for everyone.
Jacob Frey is a member of the Minneapolis City Council and a candidate for mayor.