Minneapolis City Council members pressed the police chief Tuesday about what the department is doing about rising gunfire, homicides and even downtown drag racing.
As the city approaches 400 people wounded by gunfire and 60 homicides this year, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo tried to mollify the council during a “study session” Tuesday. In June, the City Council vowed to defund the Police Department, but Tuesday they were crying out for its help amid rising gun violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in May.
Council member Phillipe Cunningham said while he still supports transformational — as opposed to incremental — change in public safety, right now the Police Department is all the city has.
“My constituents are looking at me saying, ‘What is the city doing? MPD is not showing up,’” he said.
“When they get here they say ‘We’re just running from call to call so we can’t really do anything,’” said Cunningham, whose ward includes north Minneapolis, which has been racked by gunfire. “This is like, the experience that northsiders are having right now is — a collective community trauma because of the fact that the gunfire does not stop.”
The chief assured him the department is focused on stopping the gunfire on the northside.
“We are not turning a blind eye to crime or criminal behavior,” he said.
As the Reformer reported Tuesday, city records show slower response times to 911 calls this summer, and police taking a less proactive approach to crime.
Council members repeatedly said they are getting reports of police officers telling Minneapolis residents they don’t have enough officers to respond to all calls for help.
Council Member Steve Fletcher said police officers told residents there is no plan to prevent robberies in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood; Council Member Andrew Johnson said carjackings are terrorizing residents in his ward; and, Cunningham said he is at wit’s end with the gunfire and homicides in his ward.
Council President Lisa Bender said she suspects the cops are trying to make a case for more staffing, but she thinks the approach is backfiring.
“I think it’s possible they are essentially campaigning either politically because they don’t support the council member or in some cases the mayor, or perhaps they think they are making the case for more resources for the department,” Bender said. “I can tell you in my ward, it is having the opposite effect: It is making people even more frustrated with the department.”
While the chief said there is a plan, for example, to address Marcy-Holmes robberies, officers are telling a different story on the streets, so perhaps they’re not following the chain of command and “we need to intervene,” Bender said.
“How do we get this under control?” she asked Arradondo. “We need to solve it because the trust in our department and in our city is deeply eroded and this is not helping.”
Arradondo said that’s troubling to hear, and he will relay back to his command team to ensure communities “know we are going to be there” and be responsive.
“That will be followed up on,” he said.
Council member Jeremy Schroeder said people want to know what the department is doing about rising crime.
“They wanna know what you’re doing with your $185 million budget,” he said. “People are very frustrated, and that’s because they’re living in fear. So if you’re working to make sure people are safe and you’re doing things, they need to know that.”
Council member Andrea Jenkins asked the chief to focus on what’s now informally called George Floyd Square, the intersection where Floyd was killed, which she said is rife with gun violence, drug dealing and extortion.
“People are having to pay to get out of their alleys,” she said. “Are we doing anything to be engaged and resolve these problems?”
Arradondo said with the “current traffic environment” at 38th and Chicago — which is barricaded off and virtually a no-go zone for police — “some individuals have become more emboldened.” The longer it stays that way, he said, “It’s going to become more problematic.”
Jenkins said people are being attacked while riding bikes, and the crime is spreading beyond the barricades.
“I see 18-year-olds walking around with sidearms,” Jenkins said. “It’s just really deeply disturbing, frightening.”
New council member Jamal Osman said Ward 6 has seen robberies and carjackings in broad daylight, and some businesses have closed “because they’re afraid to open the door” in the area of Chicago Avenue and Franklin Avenue. Residents are reporting slow responses from police.
“Where are the police?” he said. “They are saying they are nowhere to be seen.”
Arradondo said there is a centralized robbery team, and carjackings have been happening across the city.
Monday night another 17-year-old was murdered in Cunningham’s ward. Half the city’s shootings have taken place in his ward, all but two in north Minneapolis.
“The officers are essentially telling (my constituents) that unless they have more people, they’re not gonna be able to do their jobs, and that is essentially again making people ask ‘Well then what are we paying for now?’”
Cunningham said he’s flabbergasted by colleagues who once called for abolition of the police now calling for more resources. “This is unacceptable, what’s happening in my community,” he said. “I am tired of 17-year-old children being murdered. What is the plan from MPD’s perspective? … I am at my wit’s end with how bad it’s been without feeling like we’re getting any real support.”
Arradondo acknowledged Cunningham’s ward has had an “overwhelming, disproportionate” amount of gunfire. He said the police are taking an “all-hands-on-deck approach” in the ward.
“Do we have all the resources right now that I would like to see? Absolutely not,” he said.
The city averages 40 to 45 officer departures per year, but is nearing 100 now, plus an increase in disability leave and claims, the chief said. He is working with everyone from the sheriff’s department and Metro Transit to fill gaps, Arradondo said.
Council member Linea Palmisano said the department still has about 535 officers to patrol the city, compared to 525 last year, after Arradondo reorganized to focus on patrol and investigations.
Arradondo suggested a “real candid conversation” with him, precinct inspectors and commanders about gun violence. But the department and council need to have mutual respect, trust and support, and that will require compromise on all sides, he said.
“If we have high crime and we have communities that don’t view us as legitimate, that’s a recipe for failure,” he said. “That may mean you making commitments that might be uncomfortable for some of the constituents that you represent. But if our ultimate goal is to have true community safety, I will tell you right now, we have to work together in that effort. We have to be bold, we have to be courageous, we have to be vulnerable, but we have to work together in that effort.”