Lyndale neighborhood, the only place I’ve lived and known as home in Minnesota, hosts the Fifth Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department three blocks north of my apartment and garden on Nicollet Avenue. There is a community room meeting the corner of 31st Street with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, an architectural manifestation of the ideal of police-community relations.
This outcome is courtesy of neighborhood radicals who spent the Nineties establishing alternative models of community safety. My neighbors started the self-descriptive still-extant Lyndale Walkers, and wisely invested our NRP dollars into social housing projects such as an AIDS hospice and domestic violence shelter. Funding the community room was a way to prevent the new precinct building (itself replacing “blight”) from becoming a fortress unto itself. Neighborhood crime declined both statistically and anecdotally, following city and nationwide trends.
Since my arrival to this low-crime paradise in 2010 the Minneapolis Police Department has both turned 150 years old and shot and killed four¹ of our fellow citizens. These human beings² – our neighbors – have names and lives that mattered.
Meanwhile, Lyndale’s biggest money raiser is overtime for dedicated bike cops. Raising private money to pay public servants to do a better job at their job always struck me as odd, however the police no longer even have the overtime to spare for our bike patrols. Minneapolis, like most cities, has unquestionably chosen to continually underfund the social determinants of health while insisting an increasingly militarized³ force is the only proper municipal unit for responding to the inevitable poor outcomes.
For the millennia humans have organized themselves into cities, only the last two hundred years have featured municipal police forces. These departments have required “reform” and “oversight” from the very beginning, only to become even more deadly to their citizens. I know there was a time before the police, and I believe there will be a time after.
“Our driving goal shouldn’t be to hire as many officers as possible but to reduce the number of times we have to call police in the first place.” – St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter
I also believe that a budget is a moral document. Allocating public resources to one place or another can improve our lives or make them worse. The 2019 Minneapolis budget is an opportunity to reject paying a premium† on a kind of labor (and concept) wholly unsuited to resolving our social ills. Unlike the citizen radicals of the NRP Nineties, Minneapolis now needs specialists – the criminally underfunded people that are properly trained in the supportive services our communities use and need.
While there is a massive shortage of police labor, there is no shortage of the professional labor we need to build healthier lives: public health nurses, social workers, EMT’s, and so on. Minneapolis already employs specialists in health, elections, our award-winning 911 center, and more.
Mayor Frey has proposed a 3% increase in the police budget, most of it destined to double the PR department to $12 Million in the name of opioid response. For comparison, other cities have shown for a quarter of that cost we can rapidly house and provide integrated direct services to nearly 1,000 people for 60-90 days.
I believe that Minneapolis knows how to make these kinds of investments. The mayor’s housing first and Full Service Community Schools initiatives address the social determinants of health. We have reams of research showing this level of intervention prevents myriad issues and saves public money down the road. I think it is time to stop mindlessly shoveling our budget’s “safety” dollars into the obviously poor fit of the police managing our structural social problems.
I plan to testify at tonight’s City Council budget hearing about these misplaced priorities. I hope you can join me.
¹ To be precise, since the year 2000 there there have been 30 fatal encounters with the Minneapolis Police Department (and counting)
² “The twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul have a history of controversial police shootings.”
³ Did you know the use of teargas is an international war crime, specifically except by U.S. law enforcement?
†When I ran for Park Board I did some back-of-the-napkin salary comparisons for different police departments. Each year the Minneapolis Police Department pays about $30,000 per sworn officer (±800) in extra “oops we sometimes murder people” insurance.