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Return to Murderapolis

Crime is up in Minneapolis, thanks to opposition to racial profiling.

12:00 AM, Jul 18, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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MINNEAPOLIS'S MURDER RATE peaked in 1995; that year the New York Times dubbed Minneapolis "Murderapolis." Gangs had taken over the city's poorest neighborhoods and gang crime had become highly visible. In 1996 three Minneapolis officers were dispatched to New York City to study the "broken windows" crime-prevention program which had been implemented by Rudy Giuliani and Police Chief William Bratton.

Upon their return to Minneapolis, the officers helped introduce a version of that program they named "CODEFOR." Then-Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and then-Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson supported the implementation of the program and were delighted to claim credit for its success, which was virtually immediate.

By the fall of 2002, however, two high-profile murders suggested that gangs had retaken the streets and that Murderapolis had returned. In September, 19-year-old University of Minnesota student-athlete Brandon Hall was gunned down by a thug in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Hall had survived the mean streets of Detroit only to lose his life a year after moving to Minneapolis to fulfill his dream of playing Big 10 football. In November, 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards was shot and killed while she studied at home with her younger sister at her side, caught in the crossfire of a shootout among three gang members. Chief Olson memorably commented: "This is just another case of someone who's mad at somebody else getting mad and firing shots."

This year the situation in Minneapolis has continued to deteriorate in remarkable ways. Downtown sidewalks have become daytime hangouts for gang thugs. When Minneapolis businesses desperately sought law enforcement assistance this past spring, they were told to hire private security guards for their customers. In April, a group of nine thugs--six of whom were known gang members--attacked a 15-year-old boy who was dragged from a Metro Transit bus, pummeled, and robbed before he escaped and sought help. (The assault was caught on a chilling videotape, courtesy of the camera installed on the bus.) The 15-year-old victim had boarded the bus at the intersection of 7th Street and the Nicollet Mall--the heart of the shopping area in downtown Minneapolis. Earlier this month the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that murders have increased 55 percent in Minneapolis over the same period last year.

What happened between 2000 and 2005 to cause the sharp deterioration in the progress made in controlling Minneapolis crime? Minneapolis is a case study in the destructive effects of one-party liberal rule and a stultifying political culture.

STARTING IN THE SPRING of 2000, the Minneapolis Police Department voluntarily collected data on the race of drivers stopped in routine traffic checks. Chief Olson reported the results in January; both he and Mayor Sayles Belton contributed to the predictable charges of "racial profiling" that followed the announcement of the results. Olson was quoted observing that "there is a problem, but we don't know the level of it and how, yet, to identify it." Sayles Belton pronounced herself disappointed but not surprised by the numbers. Chief Olson submitted the data to Minneapolis's "independent" (liberal) Council on Crime and Justice, a key purveyor of the "racial disparities" line of attack on law enforcement.

As Dr. David Pence wrote of the Council on Crime and Justice in City Fathers magazine, "there is no group whose work and philosophy are more diametrically opposed to the police strategy represented by CODEFOR." Pence continued: "Handing over police data to this ideological group (currently headed by former County Attorney Tom Johnson) is a breach of confidence between the chief and police officers. To give [the Council] data, which places [it] in the role of unbiased expert, is to supply one's executioner with both well-made bullets and a shooting vantage point."

The results of the Council's study were released in April 2001 and produced an occasion for the Star Tribune to trumpet "racial disparities" in traffic stops, although the report itself was agnostic on the question of "racial profiling." The Star Tribune has observed a strict taboo against an exploration of the connection between "racial disparities" in traffic stops and other law enforcement outcomes and racial disparities in crime rates.

More important than the Star Tribune's superficial coverage of the traffic stop data was the lack of support for the police on the part of both the mayor and the chief. Not surprisingly, Minneapolis police officers reacted accordingly, reducing traffic stops and other discretionary enforcement activity that had helped get gangs off the streets just a few years earlier. Minneapolis has not been the same since.

AS A RESULT of Mayor Sayles Belton's failure to support the officers, the police supported R.T. Rybak, Sayles Belton's opponent in the 2001 mayoral election, despite the fact that Rybak was the more liberal candidate. Rybak, in fact, talked about crime and law enforcement solely in the context of "racial disparities." Rybak never seriously addressed the problem of crime in Minneapolis or the necessity of supporting the CODEFOR policing program. His key supporters were Minneapolis's lakeside liberals, for whom crime is not a problem, and his victory in the mayoral election has had predictable results.

Gangs have returned to Minneapolis in full force. First they returned to the residential neighborhoods north and south of downtown. This year they expanded their territory to the streets of downtown.

WHEN I FIRST WROTE about the return of the gangs in the fall of 2002 in two op-ed columns for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, I received an outpouring of supportive responses from citizens and police officers. I learned that 1,500 arrest warrants on Hennepin County (Minneapolis) perpetrators who had been arrested six or more times in the previous year sat unexecuted. I learned that no special provision had been made to execute warrants issued on confirmed gang members identified as such by the state gang task force. (Thankfully, I am advised that this has changed.) I was advised by a highly knowledgeable law enforcement officer that the police department had been paralyzed by the "racial disparities" crusade, to which municipal authorities not only offered no resistance, but to which they lent support.

Last week I spoke with Lt. Gregory Reinhardt, the immediate past commander of the department's CODEFOR unit. Reinhardt pointed out that the department has experienced a "drastic reduction" in personnel. Since 1998, the Minneapolis Police Department has shrunk by approximately 15 percent; it is budgeted for further shrinkage over the next three years. Noting the decrease in traffic stops over the past five years, Reinhardt observes that traffic stops "lead to lower crime. Guns, drugs and criminals with warrants pulled off the streets as a result of this proactive work . . . [but] you need time and support to do so." The lack of time is a function of the department's decreasing manpower. The lack of support is a function of deficient municipal leadership.

This summer Mayor Rybak contributed memorably to the city's collection of fatuous quotes on the subject of crime when he assured citizens that "Minneapolis is a safe city for those not involved in high-risk lifestyles." High-risk lifestyles--such as sitting at a living room table or riding a city bus.

Scott Johnson is a contributor to the blog Power Line and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard.