Several residents of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood gathered at the Brian Coyle Center Tuesday to voice safety concerns during a monthly meeting with law enforcement.
Residents listed areas around the neighborhood, including along Cedar Avenue, where people openly sell and use drugs, lamenting that when they call in the criminal activity, the dealers are gone by the time the officers arrive, prompting them to return.
A presentation from the neighborhood’s community safety specialist pilot, a new city program to improve safety by stationing ambassadors in the area, to the assembled group described long wait times after calling police. AJ Awed, executive director of the Cedar-Riverside Community Council and head of the pilot program, said he hopes his group can help make up the lessened police presence, but it’ll be more challenging if officers don’t respond to their calls in time.
“It’s going to be extremely difficult if the response isn’t there,” he told officers.
Community members’ concerns followed common themes of long response times and dwindling police presence, highlighting how the Minneapolis Police Department’s staffing woes are affecting community efforts around public safety.
One resident described dealers selling drugs and people immediately using them in the open on Cedar Avenue before asking the Minneapolis police officers in attendance why more officers can’t be stationed on the busy boulevard to curb that kind of activity.
“We have half the cops we used to have,” said Minneapolis Police Lt. Nick Torborg of the First Precinct. “We don’t have a lot of free time for general patrolling.”
Torborg said it used to be that he’d take a list of areas that need extra patrols via complaints from residents to roll calls each day. Officers would then make a note of those spots and patrol or hang out in the areas between calls to deter criminal activity.
But from 4:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., the entire First Precinct – which covers all of downtown and Cedar-Riverside – has between 12 and 14 officers on duty, prompting officers to have less time between calls to address those neighborhood concerns than they used to.
“We try to do that still but we just don’t have the opportunities that we used to have,” Torborg said. “So I don’t want to make promises that I can’t keep.”
The department has not yet recovered from a wave of resignations, retirements and disability leaves that followed the unrest after George Floyd’s murder by a then-officer two years ago, remaining short of the mandated minimum of 731 officers.
The most recent data show Minneapolis with 604 sworn officers, which includes 33 on a continuous leave of nearly two weeks or more.
Several north Minneapolis residents including former city council member Don Samuels sued the city last year in an effort to increase staffing levels. The case went to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled in June that the city must employ the minimum number of officers outlined in the city charter.
Mayor Jacob Frey’s budget proposal, unveiled last month, would give the police department $400 million over the next two years, allowing the city to reach 731 officers by next year and fund four new classes of recruits for the next two years.
In Cedar-Riverside, the city of Minneapolis is holding a public safety recruitment event on Thursday in an effort to get more people from the predominantly East African neighborhood to consider becoming a police officer or 911 dispatcher.
The three-hour event, which will be attended by new Office of Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander and interim MPD Chief Amelia Huffman, starts at 5 p.m. at the Brian Coyle Center.