A Time For Courage
Wednesday night (Aug 25) a gunman opened fire on the corner of Lyndale and Lake, hitting seven people: critically injuring one, and seriously injuring five. Our police officers are still working to understand what happened and why, but early indications are that it is related to the ongoing gang / gun violence that is terrorizing so many of our communities, particularly our low-income communities of color. This past Monday, I stumbled upon an armed robbery victim who had endured the nightmare of having a gun shoved in her face just a minute or so before I rounded the corner. The week before that I sat down with my neighbors who live around 22nd & Lyndale and have seen an escalation of crime at the Speedway, as well as business owners on the 26th & Lyndale hub where gun violence has broken out numerous times over the last few months.
While I am not yet a city council member and am not privy to the planning going on behind the scenes for our short and long-range plans for addressing this crisis, it is my understanding that our federal partners have been providing help but will now also provide two additional detectives. They will track patterns and do the behind the scenes analysis that MPD cannot because so many of our detectives are now working patrol to fill the void in manpower there.
How can we have more preventive policing?
The one question everyone was asking at the community meetings I've had over the past couple of weeks is HOW CAN WE HAVE MORE PREVENTIVE POLICING. The hard answer is that right now MPD simply does not have the manpower for that. The 5th Precinct only has FIVE officers on shift at any one time. There used to be twelve. There are just not enough officers to coordinate a Community Response Team, which would typically create targeted plans to address hotspots like Lyndale. It means there are not enough beat officers to build relationships that are essential for non-militarized crime prevention.
Why do we need more officers?
Another question that many of our neighbors ask is WHY DO WE NEED MORE OFFICERS? Well, in turn I ask you to read this recent analysis of the various perspectives on appropriate staffing levels, which includes review of a data-driven study that looked at 242 cities over 40 years. Quick summary of the study:
"Fundamentally, it found that 'investments in law enforcement save Black lives,' (that is, especially Black lives) but at the cost of more low-level 'quality of life' arrests and all the insults and injuries of intensive policing, again especially among Black residents."
Deterrent. Police presence is a deterrent for many would-be crimes. Police cannot be stationed everywhere all day, but we can use data to make predictions about where activity is likely to be and target resources there. Those of us living and working on Lyndale — without expertise in criminology — knew it had become a hotspot before this shooting. 24/7 presence everywhere isn’t practical or reflective of the kind of society we want to live in but sometimes increased presence is needed to stop tragedy before it claims more victims.
Interruption. We need enough police to respond to a crime scene quickly while others on patrol use the eyewitness info and catch the suspects before more people become victims. The aftermath of the armed robbery on Monday that I walked into is a good example of this. Neighbors a few blocks to the south of me incredibly had the exact same experience while walking their freshman to her bus for her first day of school. At 8am. A second armed robbery -- likely by the same group -- happened a few hours later and a few blocks north (the one I was loosely involved in). These were 2 of 17 armed robberies in 24 hours that are allegedly linked to the same people.
Investigation. We want demilitarized policing, which means smart policing using sophisticated data and evidentiary analysis rather than officers-on-every-corner kinds of approaches. The irony is that because of the shortage of officers to simply answer 911 calls when our neighbors are in distress, detectives have been taken off the desk and put on the street. Because we have too few officers we have less of the kind of policing we want and can't get ahead of the curve. We need to get back to a balance that enables the kind of community policing we want.
We must not give up. Your courage is needed.
Don't give up on each other. It will take all of us working together to make things better. More officers are on the way to help deter, interrupt, and investigate to help end the crime wave our city is enduring. There is no number of officers that can do this alone. Crisis shows us where our weak spots are, and right now we live in a culture where our conversations online matter more than the in-person ones we have with our neighbors. We have become isolated and used to assuming others will take care of our problems. Now is the time to get to know your neighbors, start a text chain, become active in your neighborhood association. Strategize on creative solutions to problem areas (there are people who have done this and I would be happy to connect you to them for brainstorming). This work is not always easy. On the other hand, this work is often surprisingly affirming and joyful. Invest your time in the place you live before giving up on it.
Don't give up on those who are causing harm. We will be hiring a historic number of new officers as we rebuild our police force. They are coming in under the leadership of Chief Arradondo and are asked to serve according to the oath he personally rewrote. This oath reflects the spirit of restorative justice -- we must find ways to support our officers in holding fast to their commitment, and more than that we must commit to a restorative mindset ourselves. I challenge each of us to translate this section of the MPD oath into our own code for living: "I recognize those I serve are members of the human family worthy of dignity and respect, and my term in office shall be guided by my love of service to the community and the grace of humanity." Accountability is needed for people causing harm -- it is needed for them and it is needed for victims. Accountability is also needed for a society that has treated entire communities as dispensable. The good news is that President Biden is sending millions to cities across this country to help fund community-based violence prevention work that will help build life-affirming peace infrastructure so that we do not have to make disastrous choices between safety today and a better world tomorrow. Here is a recent discussion about this work in our cities and how we can grow these long-term strategies for saving lives and saving money: Public Health On Call--Gun Violence Prevention.