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Minneapolis mayor rolls out plan to hire more police officers, combat crime

A new plan will include expanding partnerships with other police agencies and beefing up investigative units, police said

minneapolis mayor jacob frey

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey speaks at a press conference in St. Paul, Minnesota on April 19, 2021.

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/TNS

By Libor Jany
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and incoming interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman rolled out a new crime-fighting plan Wednesday that calls for hiring dozens of new police officers, expanding partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and beefing up units focused on investigating violent robberies and carjackings.

At a City Hall news conference, Frey said that the department plans to hire five recruit classes to help close a staffing gap created by the departures of hundreds of officers since the murder of George Floyd in the spring of 2020. For now, the mayor said, the department was directing its resources to areas that need it most, including assigning officers to neighborhoods where stolen vehicles were frequently abandoned.

“It’s clear that violent crime and the fear of violent crime is hurting our city,” Huffman said. “In fact, it’s hurting our entire Metro area.”

The mayor’s comments came two months after a Minneapolis election in which voters rejected a ballot measure that would have replaced the city’s police force with a new agency that would take more of a public health approach to crime prevention.

Since the start of 2020, the department has lost roughly 300 officers, creating significant staffing shortages. Whether the department should return to its size in early 2020, when it had roughly 888 officers, is sure to be hotly debated in the coming months.

Though the measure was defeated, proponents argued that the campaign around Question 2, as the measure was called, changed the tenor in the conversation around policing. More people, they argued, were open to consider alternative strategies for keeping communities safe that went beyond traditional law enforcement.

David Bicking, of the advocacy group Communities United Against Policy Brutality, said that any move to hire more officers should be based on “best practices and research nationwide,” and not be a “knee-jerk” reaction to rising crime. A study examining patrol officers’ workloads has been delayed, Bicking said, adding that its findings would’ve come in handy months ago when city officials were negotiating the budget.

“People are reacting to the crime by saying, ‘We need to hire more police,’ which is kind of the old law and order approach, which is ironic coming less than two years after the murder of George Floyd,” he said. “A lot fewer officers are needed than we had at our peak, based on the functions that can and should be removed from our police department.”

But, amid growing anxiety around violent crime, many cities, including Minneapolis, have backtracked on post-Floyd promises of drastically overhauling police departments.

Huffman cited statistics showing that the city logged more than 650 gunshot victims — a 168% increase. In 2021, 97 people died by homicides, according to a database maintained by the Star Tribune, tying a record set in 1995 — when the city had fewer residents. While some less serious crimes receded, robberies and carjackings skyrocketed last year.

She said MPD analysts would continue working with their counterparts at the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office to identify crime patterns. The department would also continue working with community-based organizations like 21 Days of Peace and A Mother’s Love, she said.

“I wish that I had an easy answer for that,” she said to the question of what can be done about the city’s crime problem. “The answer really is all of the above, when we talk about upstream and downstream.”

Huffman was named the department’s interim chief last month, replacing Medaria Arradondo, who announced he would retire in January after three decades with the department.

She inherits a department still trying to reform after Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been convicted of his murder. The May 2020 episode set off worldwide protests and reignited debate about what policing should be in the United States. Three other officers await state and federal trials in Floyd’s death.

Weeks after the election, Frey and the Council agreed to a $1.6 billion budget for the 2022 fiscal year that included just over $191 million for the MPD — restoring the department’s funding to nearly the level it held before Floyd’s death.

With most investigative units short-staffed and cases piling up, the department has worked with outside agencies, like the FBI, ATF and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to close cases. Such partnerships would continue in the future, Frey said, while also working with community organizations to get a handle on violent crime.

On Wednesday, Frey said the first recruit class was sworn in last month, with the next one set to start training in February. MPD officials previously said they would start making “lateral hires” from other law enforcement agencies, and on Wednesday Huffman announced plans to hire 40 community service officers, after the program was cut for cost-saving reasons at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, fewer people nationwide are going into law enforcement, leaving departments like Minneapolis competing over the same dwindling pool of applicants, Frey said.

“We want to make sure that if you care deeply about your community, if you want to be the change in the Minneapolis Police Department, we’re asking you to sign up and apply,” he said.

At the same time, he said, officers needed to be better compensated for doing good police work, and held accountable when they behave inappropriately.

“Police officers need to get paid more and they need to be fired more,” he said.

Huffman, who says she would like the job permanently, takes over a department in crisis: down hundreds of officers amid sinking morale and the worst violent crime surge in a generation. She will also be tasked with bridging the trust gap between law enforcement and certain communities, particularly those of color.

At the same time, the department is facing simultaneous state and federal investigations into its practices that could bring sweeping changes.

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