Police priorities

BY ED FELIEN

“America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”
—Oscar Wilde

And the Minneapolis Police Department seems to want the worst of both of those worlds. Our police officers seem to kill our citizens with barbaric indifference, and the administration creates layers and layers of bureaucratic red tape to insulate itself from accountability.

Chinese emperors, in a central government that lasted over 2,000 years, created a bureaucracy that was so elaborate and complex, it spoke a different language from ordinary people and lived in a Forbidden City.

It seems the MPD aspires to that model.

I wrote to half a dozen city departments to find the answer to a simple police budget question: “Could I see a budget breakdown of MPD Community Engagement General Fund: $2,515,179 and the source of Other Funds: $827,400, and the Special Crimes Investigations General Fund: $14,318,003 and the source of Other Funds: 1,013,028?”

As a taxpayer, a citizen and an editor of a neighborhood newspaper, I wanted to know how my tax dollars were being spent. What was the concrete application of “Community Engagement” as defined by the MPD? What were the “Special Crimes” that were worth spending $14 million investigating?

The 2017 City Council Budget as published online (http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@finance/documents/webcontent/wcmsp-194447.pdf) gives only a vague outline of the Community Engagement program: “This program is engineered to develop working relationships within the Citizen and Business Community to reduce fear of crime, improve community/police cooperation, provide education and communication, and improve the quality of life in Minneapolis. The Community Engagement Program is comprised of various components—Community Crime Prevention, a Community Engagement Team, and the Gang Interdiction Team. The Crime Prevention Specialists (CPS) develop working relationships with neighborhoods to reduce the fear of crime, improve community and police cooperation and improve the quality of life in Minneapolis by recruiting and training block leaders, teaching crime identification and prevention techniques, presenting safety and educational materials, publishing and distributing crime alerts, promoting National Night Out, resolving complaints about problem properties, and responding to crime trends. The Gang Interdiction Team helps identify, prevent, disrupt, and diffuse gang violence through targeted enforcement, interaction, and intelligence gathering and sharing. The Community Engagement Team helps educate Community organizations, collaborates and communicates with Communities to help resolve crime problems, promote crime prevention, and community risk reduction.”

The description of the Special Crimes Investigations, spending almost five times as much money, was even less satisfying: “The program works collaboratively with criminal justice partners and community stakeholders to investigate and hold those who commit crimes accountable. Works proactively through multiagency partnerships, to reduce juvenile and other crime, provide stability and respond quickly to threats to public safety. These crimes include: Domestic Assault, Crimes Against Children (child abuse and juvenile sex trafficking, absent/missing children), Sex Crimes, Traffic City of Minneapolis—Police 360 2017 Council Adopted Budget Investigations, Licensing, Juvenile Investigations, Juvenile Outreach and Diversion (PAL, School Resource Officer, Juvenile Diversion).”

As taxpayers and citizens we have a right to know how our money is being spent. How else can we hold our elected officials accountable? Appreciating the Chinese history, we can assume the more inscrutable a budget is, the more elaborate the bureaucracy, the further removed that program will be from the people it was intended to serve.

The budget will increase police administration by 16.5 positions and reduce patrol positions by 15.

More bureaucracy, less real work.

In twisted logic appropriate for a 19th century Mandarin speaking for the Chinese emperor, the mayor said, “This budget includes funding for two FTE to provide precinct administrative support so that sworn leadership in the community can more fully focus on public safety rather than also focusing on administrative tasks.”

If you want to improve safety by making patrols more effective, why don’t you add more patrols, rather than adding more administrative bureaucracy to shuffle more paper?

The budget eliminated the “Community Safety Liaisons by $67,662 and eliminating 1 FTE [full-time employee] from that program.” That eliminated the only program in the police department of a city resident and police officer (95% of the MPD live outside the city) working with the police to stop gun violence among young people.

Almost the first thing Chief Arrandondo did after being appointed was to promote 20 of his friends to the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, commander, inspector, deputy chief and assistant chief and, thereby, set up more desks and roadblocks between him and the public.

It seems the goal of every officer in the MPD is to get off the street and behind a desk.

Mayor Jacob Frey has promised us more transparency, more accessibility in city government. He can start by opening the books. The people of Minneapolis deserve to know just what it is they’ve bought.

And Mayor Jacob Frey has an opportunity to take us one step back from barbarism, from the senseless violence and unexplained horror of some of the actions of the MPD. The police officers who killed Justine Damond, Jamar Clark and Terrance Franklin were employees of the City of Minneapolis. They were our employees, working in our name. After the criminal investigations, after criminal prosecutions (if any) that prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, after civil proceedings that use a lower level of proof to establish compensatory damages, then the mayor and the police chief must decide whether the employees acted according to established MPD procedures and whether they respected the victim’s civil rights.

We must wait for the conclusion of the criminal investigation by the BCA and the conclusion of criminal prosecution before we can safely assume facts in the killing of Justine Damond. But we have the reports from the BCA and the conclusions of the county attorney in the killing of Jamar Clark and Terrance Franklin.

It would be an historic example of leadership for Mayor Jacob Frey to read the reports from the BCA about the killing of Jamar Clark and Terrance Franklin and explain to us what happened. Did City of Minneapolis employees act according to police procedures and did they respect the victim’s civil rights? Are they still employed by the city? Should they be commended or disciplined?

The people of Minneapolis need to know.

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