Nine of the Minneapolis City Council’s 13 members announced on Sunday they pledged to disband the local police department. With nine votes, the council would have a veto-proof supermajority.
“We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe,” Council President Lisa Bender said to CNN. “[We need] to listen, especially to our black leaders, to our communities of color, for whom policing is not working and to really let the solutions lie in our community.”
Bender told CNN she and the City Council were considering shifting police funding toward community-based strategies (whatever that means) but that ultimately the city council would discuss how to replace the current police department. “The idea of having no police department is certainly not in the short term,” Bender clarified.
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) June 7, 2020
It’s a bad idea to disband any local police department. But as a native of the Gopher State, I’d argue it’s especially dangerous to disband Minnesota’s. Local officials should pursue significant reform instead. Here’s why the police should stay.
Minneapolis is an Area with High, Violent Crime
For starters, Minneapolis is not a rural town where crime is minimal. Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota, in the top 50 largest cities in the U.S., and it boasts one of the highest crime rates for its size in the country. The FBI’s uniform crime report for 2018 states, “Minneapolis crime rates are 82% higher than the national average; Violent crimes in Minneapolis are 108% higher than the national average.”
Additional stats provide national context: “With a violent crime rate of 1,063 reported incidents for every 100,000 residents, nearly three times the corresponding national rate, Minneapolis is one of the most dangerous cities in the country.” In 2019, the Star Tribune reported that police data showed “the city’s 37 homicides climbed 32% from 28 this time last year, while aggravated assaults, rapes and robberies also rose during the first 10 months of the year.”
According to CNN, Bender said she and other council members analyzed the nature of 911 calls by constituents and found most were for mental health services, EMT, and fire services. It’s not clear how many calls they analyzed or how they came to that conclusion given these outrageous crime statistics—unless Minneapolis residents have just given up. Regardless, there’s too much crime to disband the police force, even one that may have its flaws.
Crime is High—Without Police, It Will be Higher
Of course, one response to increasingly higher crime rates in a city like Minneapolis is to proclaim, “See? The police aren’t working!’ It isn’t the first time this discussion has taken place in Minnesota between law enforcement and local and state elected officials. Just last year, as crime increased, residents and officials wondered if increasing police staff would resolve anything and reduce crime.
Yes, crime is high in Minneapolis, but that doesn’t mean the police department should be abolished altogether, despite terrible incidents like we observed with the death of George Floyd. Without police, crime will increase to astronomical proportions.
Every year, there are approximately 8.25 million criminal offenses and 10 million arrests made by police officers. Imagine a world without anyone but community organizers trying to stop these criminal activities. From a basic civics class to “The Communist Manifesto,” any historical references and political ideology would reject the notion that a society that wants to be law-abiding, peaceful, and prosperous, should do so by disbanding its local police force.
In her book “The War on Cops,” Heather MacDonald explains that police do a lot of good in society. Through extensive use of data, she makes a powerful case that police are often painted as bad guys due to the media, Black Lives Matter, and even flaws within the judiciary. She says these attacks on cops are a blatant attack on law and order itself, and serve to make everyone less safe.
Read that again: It’s not the cops—it’s the way they are portrayed. In an article in the Wall Street Journal just last week, MacDonald said, of course, bad cops should be held accountable. She disabused readers, however, of the notion that there is a widespread racial bias among law enforcement. If you thought crime was bad now, it would certainly increase without a police department.
Police Presence Provides a Sense of Protection, Law, and Order
The presence of police, even if they’re not arresting folks, can help maintain order in a society that will generally wane toward chaos without it. From traffic stops or drug raids to attempted rape and robbery, a nearby police force provides aid for people who need it, particularly folks who are young, elderly, without a personal firearm, or just vulnerable.
This criminal justice policy reform article describes the role of police in people’s everyday lives well: “Community policing reduces crime and fears of crime as well as perceptions of policing discrimination. At the same time, it increases public satisfaction of police and increases positive attitudes toward officers. A recent analysis of the scholarship around community policing confirms its positive impact on community satisfaction and perceptions of legitimacy.”
Can you imagine a society without the presence of armed officers near the White House, outside a bank, or just patrolling your neighborhood? America’s 911 system handles 500,000 calls daily and about 183 million annually. Many of these are genuine calls for help. If your daughter was in college and was about to get raped, would you not want a police department available to answer the call? If your son was walking home from school and a stranger tried to abduct him, would you not want a police officer standing by?
It would be “The Purge” come to life—2013’s dystopian thriller where all crime becomes legal for one night a year because law enforcement is suspended. Except, this would be more than one night, and it would not create a better society. It would allow the worst of society to create anarchy. Only dystopian, authoritarian governments reject the idea of law-abiding officers that aid the vulnerable and weak leaving only the strong to ward off criminals.
We Shouldn’t Disband Police When Reform is Possible
No matter how overrun with violent protesters, rioters, or looters, even some cities seem to understand that it’s silly, if not absurd, to disband the police when what they actually want is significant criminal justice reform. In fact, there’s a bit of gaslighting going on about this. At the very least, there is confusion as some state and local leaders are clarifying they don’t actually want to defund or abolish the police—they just want reform to take place.
— The Hill (@thehill) June 7, 2020
It’s obvious that despite all the good things police departments try to do, they are human, flawed, and make serious mistakes—mistakes that can, sadly, cost lives. Many on all sides of the political spectrum have advocated for police reform. Yet this Washington Post article bemoans reform, saying Minneapolis police already struggled with police violence, adopted reforms, and still, George Floyd died.
With all due respect, the reforms the department achieved were clearly not enough. Within hours of Floyd’s murder, it was revealed with a quick search that his alleged murderer, police officer Derek Chauvin, had numerous complaints filed against him that had been logged by the department itself.
Imagine if that policy itself had been reformed. Had Chauvin been fired after the second or third complaint, Floyd would be alive, the nearly 70 Minneapolis businesses that have been burned down would still be operating, and the 15 people who have subsequently been killed due to protests about Floyd would still be alive.
Just because some reforms didn’t work, doesn’t mean none will work. William O. Douglas said, “It is procedure that spells much of the difference between rule of law and rule by whim or caprice.” I’ve long said there needs to be significant policy reform when it comes to training. Shoot to kill should not be the go-to police mantra, among other issues.
The last time police reform came up, body cameras were an instrument of reform, and those have been useful, not only to prove the innocence of citizens but police officers themselves. Body cams can nail cops like this guy who was illegally planting drugs on unassuming suspects.
According to Jeremiah Mosteller of the Charles Koch Institute, “Police academies spend, on average, 228 percent more time training new officers on firearm skills and defensive tactics than community policing. Police academies and departments across the country seeking to adopt community policing should ensure that officers are equipped to be effective collaborators with their local communities.” There’s much that can still be done in the area of reform. Giving up is simply not a wise option.
Law enforcement serves an important purpose in a free society. The majority of police officers promote public safety and uphold the rule of law in an effort to preserve our individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No police department is perfect. Significant reform must take place. But we cannot simply disband local departments in favor of anarchy. Doing so will not help anyone, especially not the vulnerable among us who need police the most.