As a Minnesota judge is hearing arguments Monday on a ballot measure to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, a new investigative report found that in the months following George Floyd’s death, Minneapolis officers “imposed abrupt changes” of their own by taking a “hands-off approach” to crime.
According to an investigative report by Reuters, Minneapolis officers almost immediately stopped conducting traffic stops, as violent demonstrations erupted across the city in response to the viral video showing former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed to a handcuffed Floyd’s neck.
Records show Minneapolis officers also approached fewer individuals considered suspicious. After analyzing more than 2.2 million police dispatches in the city, Reuters found the number of individuals approached by officers who considered them suspicious dropped by 76% in the year since Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. During that time, Minneapolis police stopped 85% fewer cars for traffic violations, meaning that fewer illegal guns were found and seized by law enforcement.
“It’s self-preservation,” one officer who retired after Floyd’s death told Reuters, explaining how cops grew less willing to risk their encounters with the public becoming the next flashpoint.
“There isn’t a huge appetite for aggressive police work out there, and the risk/reward, certainly, we’re there and we’re sworn to protect and serve, but you also have to protect yourself and your family,” Scott Gerlicher, a Minneapolis police commander who retired this year, told Reuters. “Nobody in the job or working on the job can blame those officers for being less aggressive.”
Three law enforcement experts interviewed by Reuters argued that a less active police force can most definitely impact community safety.
“The evidence that proactive policing works is pretty solid,” Justin Nix, a University of Nebraska Omaha criminologist, said. If officers conduct more frequent stops, it becomes riskier for people to carry guns illegally. On the contrary, if people will grow less likely to call for police help if they believe officers won’t respond. “If police pull back in the aggregate and they’re also pulling back in areas where crime is concentrated, that can be bad news.”
Minneapolis officers faced with an increased workload, fewer colleagues and more crime now actively “flee” in some situations, Reuters reported. One officer speaking on condition of anonymity detailed how patrol units ignore minor violations when in the past they would have made stops to search for guns or drugs. Additionally, officers sometimes take longer routes when responding to calls in hopes that whatever violent situation was unfolding might have dissipated by the time they arrive.
Reuters calculated that the average response time to priority 911 calls in April of this year was 40% longer than it had been a year earlier. Meanwhile, the number of murders in Minneapolis is slated to reach a 20-year high, and the number of outdoor shootings has more than doubled since Floyd’s death.
Meanwhile, a staffing shortage at the Minneapolis Police Department prompted by a surge of retirements and resignations, as well as a wave of officers on medical leave since the rioting last summer, has left at least 200 fewer officers on the streets, a 22% drop compared to levels in 2019.
A judge in July ordered the city to hire at least 730 more police officers by next summer in order to comply with the city charter’s requirement for the force based on population. It’s unclear, though, how that order may come to fruition, as the department has been struggling to recruit and a contradicting ballot measure to replace Minneapolis police altogether might be up for voters to decide.
Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson is holding an emergency hearing Monday on a ballot measure to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with the Minneapolis Public Safety Amendment after striking its language down last week for being vague and ambiguous “to the point of misleading voters.”
Minneapolis City Council has since approved new language, and Tuesday is the final deadline for it to be submitted, WCCO-TV reported. In striking down the past language last week, Anderson ruled on a civil lawsuit brought by three Minneapolis residents who argue they’re constantly needing police in their neighborhoods, which are battling unprecedented crime rates.
Early voting begins on Friday.