Violent crime up, yet Minneapolis police make fewer arrests

Officer Mike Kirchen
Minneapolis police officer Mike Kirchen is one of the creators of the Bike Cops for Kids program. Some say community engagement like this program can divert officers from doing crime fighting that takes violent offenders off the streets.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Minneapolis is seeing an uptick in violence, a drop in arrests for violent offenses — and a jump in the number of police community engagement meetings. Is it all connected?

There is no good, single answer. The data, though, are generating lots of questions as the city struggles through a month where gunfire has already left three people dead and eight injured.

Citywide arrests for violent offenses are down by 20 percent compared to the same period in 2015. Traffic stops and suspicious person stops have dropped by more than 30 percent citywide.

Police data also show a 400 percent jump in the number of what they call community engagement meetings. That can include having officers attend block parties and neighborhood watch meetings, even reading to kids in schools. Earlier this week the department unveiled a new van that will help deliver new bikes and bike helmets to children.

This kind of policing may be good for public relations, but some, like police union president Lt. Bob Kroll, say it also diverts officers from doing crime fighting that takes violent offenders off the streets. Given the current size of the force, 850 officers, Kroll said there's not enough time for officers to attend meetings or read to kids in schools.

"That is a different type of police work and it does take a lot of time and a lot of resources," said Kroll. "And if you're out doing that you're not going to be stopping a vehicle for a traffic violation which could lead to a warrant — an arrest for a suspended driver and a warrant for his arrest, tow the vehicle and get a weapon inside, those types of things."

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When officers aren't doing that kind of proactive policing, Kroll said, crime goes up.

He also believes officers are more reluctant to make traffic stops because they don't want to be accused of racial profiling or sparking the kind of protests which emerged after the police shooting death of Jamar Clark last fall.

Protest group leaders have rejected the idea that their opposition to fatal police shootings has led to an increase in violent crime. Police Chief Janee Harteau agrees and says there's no simple explanation for the decline in police stops and arrests.

"The answer to the decline is complex and there are multiple factors that attribute to those numbers; from fewer resources to increased community engagement to being more selective with what types of enforcement action is necessary," Harteau said in a statement, adding, "Let's be clear, however, my officers are not responsible for the increase in violent crime, those who commit the acts are."

The drop in police stops and arrests has occurred at a time when the department faces accusations of racial profiling.

Police data analyzed by the ACLU last year found African-Americans and Native Americans were arrested at rates nearly nine times higher than the rate for whites.

ACLU Executive Director Chuck Samuelson said he's not sure if the decreases will affect those disparities. He said it's not clear to him what's behind the reduction in police stops and arrests. It may be that the department is employing less confrontational ways to interact with the public and not counting them as stops.

"And instead [police] are trying to do things that will encourage community members to contact police when stuff is happening or when they have suspicions — which they [community members] have been unwilling to do in the past," said Samuelson.

It is also possible officers are engaging in a work slowdown, said Samuelson.

Kroll, however, denies that is happening and said officers are not ignoring 911 calls for service.

While stops and arrests are down, citizen complaints about police service are not. According to the latest numbers from the city's Office of Police Conduct Review, civilian complaints so far this year are up 39 percent compared to the same period in 2015.