Almost a half century ago, I spent a couple of years living in Minneapolis near the University of Minnesota. I even took some journalism classes at the university.
In my spare time, some friends and I could often be found playing basketball in Van Cleve Park, a few blocks north of Dinkytown. Most days, one could find a game there. All ages, all colors, all abilities were welcome. No one was ever assaulted there, let alone shot.
Flash forward to more recent times. Scanning the Twin Cities crime news, occasionally I read about a shooting near that park or even within a block of where I once lived. I also read about people being assaulted closer to the University and even in a parking ramp on campus.
The crime news recently has focused on the spike in homicides in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Many people respond to that with, “Ho hum, it’s just turf wars between drug gangs” as if that is OK because, being non-drug users themselves, they aren’t directly affected.
However, some of the mayhem in Minneapolis is occurring downtown. That affects many Minnesotans because the Twins, Vikings and Timberwolves play there. Many others go there to watch top-flight theater productions.
A couple of weeks ago, a Metro Transit bus was idling at a curb downtown. Someone came on the bus and shot two people, killing one. Sigh in relief or cry because the assailant was a good shot. No one else was injured. In other shootings, innocent bystanders have not been so lucky.
I have become extremely reluctant to go into downtown Minneapolis by myself. Last summer, for the first time, I detoured around the downtown before going to a Twins game. I was alone, but chose to meet a friend from the south suburbs at the Mall of America to ride into downtown on the light rail. It took me 20 miles out of my way, and added an hour to my trip, but by doing so, I was never by myself downtown.
Facing this rise in crime, as Minneapolis was preparing its budget last year, Police Chief Medario Arradondo proposed adding 400 officers to the department over five years. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey originally proposed adding 14, but later agreed to add a new recruitment class of 20 to 40 cadets.
Forty additional officers may seem significant until one does the math. This year, being a leap year, has 8,784 hours in it. Officers get holidays, sick time and vacation each year. While a 40-hour work week equals 2,080 hours annually, the reality is that an officer is only on duty about 1,900 hours.
Some of that time is taken up in meetings and paper work. That means that to put one additional officer on the street 24/7, at least five officers would have to be hired, assuming no one was ever injured on the job.
Thus, the mayor’s response is to add one or two officers downtown, another one or two by the University, and the same for North Minneapolis and down around Lake Street.
In St. Paul, Mayor Melvin Carter, initially proposed reducing the size of his city’s police force by five. He then held neighborhood listening sessions to see if anyone could provide insight on what to do about the homicides. A St. Paul Police Department study released last month called for adding 103 more officers.
Anybody feel safer yet?
In addition, violent crime went up 35% last year on Metro Transit buses and light rail. The response from the Metropolitan Council, which has oversight, is to add 20,000 hours of mass transit police patrols. That sounds like a lot until, again, the math is done.
Maybe 20,000 hours is enough since many bus routes are rush-hour only and don’t run all night. Maybe one officer can ride a bus for one stop, get off and take the next bus, using a semi-presence to keep people from misbehaving. Regardless, approximately 11 full-time officers would be added.
All of this comes under a backdrop of progressives complaining about police brutality and both cities paying out millions to families in wrongful police actions.
The fact remains that the drug gangs feel emboldened under the current administrations in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Perhaps it is time to stop referring to them as “gangs,” which conjures up images of the Jets and the Sharks in “West Side Story” — just juvenile delinquents. Today’s “gangs” are actually “militias,” serving the Mexican drug cartels. A war is going on between these lawless militias and the law-abiding. Pick a side.
Monday, a group of outstate Republicans introduced several bills designed to improve safety in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Not surprisingly, Frey and Carter took offense, because the implication was that they and their city councils were not effectively addressing the problem. Well?
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz ran on a theme of “One Minnesota.” He has remained strangely silent on this issue. Before he and metro DFLers dismiss outstaters as having no say in it, maybe they should think a little harder about giving law enforcement the resources they need to combat the breakdown in civil order.
Every Minnesotan who lives in or visits the Twin Cities has a stake in this. —Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of the Morrison County Record. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.