It was part press conference, part community meeting.
Held at a North Minneapolis library, the gathering was called by city officials to tout some new statistics, numbers that show that crime is down — in some cases down to levels not seen since the 1980s.
But it also was a chance for neighborhood residents to ask broader questions about relations between cops and the black community. For good measure, it also became something of a forum about economic and educational inequities.
First, the stats: The 2014 numbers are pretty good, less for how they compare to the previous year and more for how they maintain a downward trend in crime for Minneapolis. Violent crime is up slightly, by less than a percentage point, but property crimes were down by 1.34 percent.
The total number of what are called Part I crimes — homicide, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery, auto theft, theft and arson — is comparable to the previous three years, with 23,351 offenses in 2014. And while the number isn’t at the 30-year low of 22,224 (that happened in 2009), all recent years are below their mid-2000s highs. And they are far below the decade from 1987 to 1997 when the number never fell below 40,000 offenses.
While violent crime was up slightly, it was actually down by a tick in the 4th Precinct, which covers North Minneapolis. And Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau seemed especially proud that burglary was down by 10 percent citywide.
At the announcement, Harteau was joined by Mayor Betsy Hodges and 13 of the department’s top brass: deputy chiefs, assistant chiefs and precinct commanders. And both the chief and mayor heaped praise on department leadership and the rank and file for making some gains in a tough year.
But dampening the news — and forming a backdrop to the discussion — were some uncomfortable truths. One is that the numbers are nearly always worse in North Minneapolis, home to many of the city’s minority residents, as well as many of its poorest — a fact that has contributed to increased tension between the police and the neighborhood.
Hodges acknowledged that there is a story behind the numbers. “Minneapolis is a safe city,” she said. “But it is safer for some than for others.” And Harteau cited a subset of the numbers of guns taken off the streets as both a positive and a negative indicator of the department’s efforts. Of the 692 guns captured by the MPD, 442 were in North Minneapolis.
Sondra Samuels, the chief executive officer for the Northside Achievement Zone, said it was okay to celebrate the statistics, even while acknowledging there is still work to do. “We will work things out in this city and we have to because we need each other,” she said. “We need the police, and the police need us. And so, we have to stop and we have to celebrate and we have to say, ‘This is good news,’ that we are headed in the right direction … We need to suspend the criticism for a minute and say, ‘Hallelujah’ and, ‘Thank you,’” Samuels said.
While it was a press conference, the most probing questions came from members of the North Minneapolis community in attendance. They asked about a recent ACLU study that shows minority residents are more likely to face arrest for minor offense; why the good cops in the department don’t stand up to the bad cops; why the department arrests so many for marijuana possession; and how city leaders are responding the national protests against what is viewed as excessive force against black men.
Cops, Harteau said, are trying to meet with residents more frequently. “Shots-fired” investigations, for example, are taken more seriously and officers go door-to-door to seek help as a way to get past the tendency of neighbors to stay inside. More school resource officers are on duty. All officers will go through training to identify “implicit bias. If possible, curfew violators are taken home, not downtown.”
Kerry Jo Felder, a community activist from North Minneapolis, wanted to know what the department is doing to work with community leaders for positive outcomes in the area.
In response, Harteau spoke of having more face-to-face contacts with leaders in North Minneapolis, her get out the vote door-knocking with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (the same drive led to the so-called Pointergate story involving Hodges), her appointment of a new leadership position to work on recruiting, and her efforts to recruit more officers of color.
“I want police officers — not just leadership — that have a wider view of the world, a wider lens, because we deal with people,” Harteau said.