Minneapolis cop says officers have taken ‘hands-off’ approach to crime fighting

By: - October 20, 2021 11:10 pm

Mike Forcia hands out pieces of the rope used to tear down the Christopher Columbus statue in St. Paul on June 10. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

A Minneapolis police officer acknowledged to a local Indigenous leader during a videotaped conversation that he and fellow officers have taken a “hands-off” approach to crime control, including out-in-the-open drug dealing. 

American Indian activist Mike Forcia said the Minneapolis cop, whose identity could not be immediately determined, recently told him there’s nothing he can do about suspected drug dealing. An attempted interdiction, he said, would turn into a confrontation, the media would spin it to look like the police beat an innocent Black man, and Lake Street might burn again.

The officer also blamed Gov. Tim Walz, Mayor Jacob Frey and the Minneapolis City Council for police inaction: “It’s what they want,” he said. 

The dialogue between Forcia and the officer is likely to provide fresh fuel to those who allege Minneapolis police have stopped doing their jobs while still getting paid. Police advocates, meanwhile, say progressive politicians and overzealous media scrutiny have made policing impossible in high-crime areas, where gun crimes have become increasingly common in the past 18 months or so. 

Between now and Election Day, Nov. 2, Minneapolis voters are deciding on Question 2, which would dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and create a new department of public safety with a public health focus and a stronger role for the City Council. 

Forcia recorded the conversation with his phone, and the video was first posted to YouTube by Javier Morillo, a paid consultant for Yes 4 Minneapolis, the group promoting Question 2.

Forcia said in a Reformer interview that he called police repeatedly around 11 a.m. Sunday to report a man in a green pickup who appeared to be dealing drugs near the Homeward Bound Shelter where Forcia works.

He said police said someone was coming, but no one came, so he repeatedly called 911 until two cops showed up in a squad car hours after he first called.

The officers didn’t get out of their car. The suspicious pickup left the scene. So Forcia went out and asked the officer if he looked in the car, while recording the conversation. The officer said he wasn’t going to look in the car, and could only take action if he saw other violations, like if it were a stolen car.

“I’m gonna be honest with you, you know, this sucks and you guys don’t wanna hear this, but our hands are tied,” the officer said on the video.

“Because of the mayor?” Forcia asked.

“Because of politicians,” the officer said.

“Which ones?” Forcia asked.

“The City Council mainly. The mayor a little bit and the governor a little bit.”

Forcia asked if the politicians don’t want cops looking in cars due to some stated policy.

“Well, it’s not a policy, but it’s what they want,” the officer said.

Forcia reminded the officer that the Minneapolis Police Department has not been defunded.

“No we haven’t, but we’re very hands off,” the officer said. 

A Reuters investigation of Minneapolis police data recently revealed that since the murder of George Floyd, “the number of people approached on the street by officers who considered them suspicious dropped by 76% … Officers stopped 85% fewer cars for traffic violations. As they stopped fewer people, they found and seized fewer illegal guns.

The unnamed officer told Forcia that investigating the suspected drug dealer would likely go badly for the police: “This is why we’re hands off: Now somebody like that, if we get out on ’em, pull ’em out, it’s gonna turn into a confrontation, somebody’s gonna get hurt. And the media’s gonna spin it and say, ‘Hey, the racist Minneapolis Police Department beat up another innocent Black man for just sittin’ in his car.’ That’s how it’s gonna get spinned.”

The alternative, the officer said: “If we just let him go, OK, he’s just gonna go pick another place.”

When Forcia asked why politicians don’t want confrontations with people, the officer replied, “Because they don’t want Lake Street to burn down again. They don’t want these riots to happen.”

“So it has nothing to do with innocent people actually getting beat up by the police?” Forcia asked. Forcia said he was paid a $125,000 settlement after getting beaten by police in the 1990s.

“At the end of the day, it’s good people like you that suffer, because now we’re not doing our jobs to the full potential,” the officer replied. “I’m sorry that happened. I agree stuff like that needs to change. Laws like this — we should be able to do something about that but you know, we can’t.”

Forcia asked what citizens are to do — handle the drug dealer themselves?

“No,” the officer said.

“Well then who’s gonna do it?” said Forcia, who didn’t get the officer’s badge number.

“Nobody,” the officer said. “They just get away with it. That’s just the bottom line.”

When Forcia suggested it’s a waste of time to call the police, the officer said it’s not a waste if they see a “good violation” they can do something about.

“The criminals have way more freedoms now,” he said. “They are getting away with so much more… On stuff like this there’s nothing we can do; our hands are tied.”

MPD spokesman Garrett Parten said he’d look at the video, but may not be able to respond until next week. 

During and after the protests that followed the murder of Floyd in May 2020, many residents began reporting slow responses or no response to their calls for help, leading City Council members to openly question whether the police were deliberately pulling back.

Some council members felt their wards were targeted because they supported defunding or restructuring the police department, and Council President Lisa Bender said last year police were telling residents some version of, “We’re not coming.” A lawsuit was filed accusing police of slow responses in the Phillips neighborhood.

Thomas Coghlan, a retired New York Police Department detective and professor of clinical psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is part of the City University of New York, told the Reformer in June that police unions sometimes stage “sickouts,” or encourage cops to “go dead.” He said they’ll stop writing tickets and making arrests and take their time on calls to “discipline” the department or community.

Forcia said he sees drug deals all the time, and before the nearby homeless encampment at Cedar and Franklin Avenues was recently dismantled, he and other staffers were “running around with Narcan all over the place” to try to save people from overdosing.

He said he was “disgusted” to hear a police officer say he can’t do anything about suspected drug dealing. He said the officer was “so condescending … while our people are dying, literally.”

“We’re just running on a treadmill losing our footing,” he said. “You don’t know how many funerals we have in our community due to drug overdoses.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.