There's continuing irony — some might say hypocrisy — in the way some City Council members are handling the Minneapolis Police Department.
Some of the same officials who publicly embraced the "dismantle and defund" approach for the MPD early this summer now want to know what the department is doing to combat rising crime.
It's unfortunate that it's apparently taken that uptick in violence on city streets to prompt critics of the department to adopt more reasonable positions regarding policing.
Last week, some council members pressed MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo about how the MPD was responding. Some, including Council President Lisa Bender, said constituents had complained that officers weren't enforcing laws — a claim the chief diplomatically answered by saying his department is "up to the task'' of handling rising gun and other violent crime. He added that he would discuss concerns with his precinct supervisors.
What Bender and some of her council colleagues seemingly don't understand is that their actions have made it more difficult for police to do their jobs. MPD has had a wave of officer departures since George Floyd's killing, while the priority has shifted to responding to crime rather than trying to prevent it. And morale certainly wasn't helped by the cloud created by talk of dismantling the department.
It's tough to see how the department can rise to the current public safety challenges as its ranks, resources and support from the City Council have been depleted.
Downtown residents and business owners say they believe that lawlessness has increased in part because it's widely known that there are fewer officers and that response times are down. During the vandalism and looting downtown this summer, troublemakers knew help wasn't necessarily coming quickly when business owners called police.
The public clearly understands the need for effective policing. An August Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll found that a plan to reduce the number of MPD officers did not have majority support.
That doesn't mean that the MPD shouldn't undergo major change. The racially biased subculture that supports the use of excessive force — especially against people of color — must be addressed. And there is a place for using more of the city's resources on violence prevention and community outreach programs. Still, as the Star Tribune Editorial Board has argued previously, eliminating law enforcement or starving the MPD's budget are the wrong answers.
With last week's irony noted, it's encouraging that some City Council members have seemingly moved on from the "defund, dismantle" mantra. (Nine council members, including Bender, took that poorly thought-out pledge to end the department, while Linea Palmisano, Lisa Goodman and Kevin Reich declined to sign on.) After a failed push to get a measure on the Nov. 3 ballot to eliminate a charter requirement that the city have a certain number of cops, the 2021 budget will provide the council with the next major opportunity to make changes.
Mayor Jacob Frey, who also has resisted efforts to dismantle the department and has supported Arradondo's reform efforts, released his detailed budget plan on Wednesday. It would increase spending on crime prevention while maintaining a Police Department with a monthly average of about 770 officers — more than 100 fewer that it had at the start of 2020. Determining whether that size of a force is adequate to restore order downtown and in all Minneapolis neighborhoods should be the focus of the mayor and council before a final budget is adopted.
As they do that work, the city's leaders should listen to the voices of constituents throughout the city — not just the minority of activists who have unrealistically called for a police-free community.