In the public discussion of Minneapolis Police Department funding I have heard it said — including by both Council Member Jeremiah Ellison and Whittier resident Nicole Weiler — that funding the police is wasteful because “the police respond after an event occurs. They don’t and won’t keep us safe.”
That is just plain wrong. Here’s why.
Let me take you back to 1996, when the New York Times dubbed our city “Murderapolis.” Violent crime was worse than today, but not much worse.
Addressing that crisis took resources, strategy and public support. Having been an MPD deputy chief in that moment, I can tell you the entire department pulled together with the community to turn the tide.
Resources: I oversaw the hiring of 110 so-called “Clinton Cops” in one year. We also invested in crime analysis, using both technology and professional analysts.
Strategy: Having police officers to deploy is inadequate if they are not deployed effectively. We adapted the New York CompStat initiative for Minneapolis and named it CODFOR (computer optimized deployment focused on results).
No, this was not “broken windows” policing. It was the opposite of that. Broken Windows was a blunt instrument, CODFOR was a scalpel. It involved understanding crime patterns and trends in real time, sharing that information internally and in the community, and using police resources in a very purposeful way. It emphasized accountability for results.
For example, we had a weekly meeting of a large number of key department personnel. It was led by command staff, but precinct commanders were the focus of accountability. They were expected to be aware of any current crime threats and have a strategy to address them. They were not left as scapegoats. They could tap the experience of other precinct commanders, crime analysts and investigators to guide the use of their police officers.
Community: While building out CODFOR, we reached out extensively to the community, particularly to communities of color, to explain the strategy, the reasons for it and to ask for their support. As today, communities of color were suffering the greatest harm.
We held a large community meeting on the north side at the Minneapolis Urban League. We held a south side meeting in the auditorium of Plymouth Congregational Church. Additionally, we reached out to the Minneapolis faith community, especially religious leadership in communities of color.
I met personally with the Rev. Ian Bethel at New Beginnings Ministries in south Minneapolis and Reverend Curtis Herron at Zion Baptist in north Minneapolis. I would say both were skeptical, but they appreciated the outreach. Reverend Herron allowed us to hold a subsequent meeting at Zion for a broader group of Minneapolis clergy.
As CODFOR matured we held a monthly meeting for the community, rotating to community sites in each precinct.
Soon began the long decline in crime in the city of Minneapolis that lasted over 20 years. Was MPD’s CODFOR exclusively the cause? Of course not. But along with community support it was a major factor.
Let me also put in a plug for plain old dogged investigations. In several years as a robbery detective I built a number of solid cases on career criminals. There were two cases in particular where we got two groups of robbery suspects convicted of 11 and 13 cases respectively. I have to believe those convictions prevented many additional crimes and victims. Many other detectives did the same.
I am not blind to the shortcomings of MPD and egregious cases like the death of George Floyd. I was that rare MPD cop who lived in the city before, during and after my service. I trust and support Chief Medaria Arradondo, another city kid, as he makes improving MPD a top priority.
We also need officer proactivity. To get the best performance from officers, their morale must improve. I have heard no words of support from the majority of City Council members. I do hear supportive words in my neighborhood, where social and racial justice are visibly supported.
We must improve both safety and justice.
Gregory Hestness is a retired deputy chief of the Minneapolis Police Department and a former University of Minnesota police chief.