A leading criminologist is questioning the wisdom of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposal to spend roughly half a million dollars hiring outside agencies to help the city’s Police Department respond to 911 calls.
“It’s a profound failure of imagination to think that this is the only possible strategy that could be pursued with this huge amount of money,” said Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College who has been researching policing for three decades. “These officers from other jurisdictions are not really properly qualified to engage in this job.”
Frey has backed a request from Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to bring in 20 to 40 officers from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and Metro Transit Police to form teams that would respond to 911 calls for violent crime, while working on task forces in high crime areas. The measure passed the City Council’s Policy and Government Oversight Committee Tuesday and goes to the full council on Friday.
The chief’s request comes during a surge in violent crime, even as nearly 15% of the department’s sworn officers are on leave — 121 out of a total of 834, according to the Star Tribune. Many have filed disability claims, citing post-traumatic stress related to their response to the unrest following the killing of George Floyd this summer.
In the meeting Tuesday, Frey argued that the council should defer to the chief, but Vitale questioned that reasoning, arguing that it is the mayor’s job to come up with policies to address the uptick in violence.
”He has an obligation to manage this, to take some responsibility for how this gets managed,” Vitale said.
In his view, Minneapolis is overly reliant on police and Frey has opted to “double down on the idea that policing is the solution to everything.”
“There is a movement that is making some pretty concrete demands,” he said, referring to police reform activists. “And the mayor in particular has been largely intransigent in responding to them and turning the problem over to the police.”
Frey, however, sees his strategy as being “both and,” according to his office, citing his 2021 budget proposal, which makes funding for the city’s “violence interruption” initiative permanent, while also overhauling the department’s use of force policy in August.
“The mayor is unwilling to dismiss the trust and expertise Chief Arradondo has built over his three decades serving our city, and he won’t ignore the pleas for immediate help coming loud and clear throughout Minneapolis, especially from the North and Southside,” a spokesperson with the mayor’s office said.
Vitale is the author of the book The End of Policing, which argues that the root cause of police brutality is an expanded role of militarized police to tackle complex societal problems like addiction and homelessness.
Even as Frey continues to work closely with the Police Department, the City Council is pushing for a 2021 ballot measure that would radically transform the department into a new public safety agency under the direction of the council, said Lisa Bender, City Council president, in a recent Reformer interview.