Abolish the Police Car

Until we can change the city charter, we must pay the salaries of about 730 police officers. However, nowhere in there does it specify what is necessary equipment for the officers to have. I will argue here that police cars are not only unnecessary but also actively harmful, and should no longer be funded by our property taxes.

A couple caveats for those who might stop reading at this point:

1) Officers with disabilities are able to request accommodations just like any other city employee.

2) Nobody except the police decides where their budget actually goes, apparently, so if city council cuts funding for the cars the police might decide to cut it from some other portion of their budget.

3) I have been privileged and lucky enough to not have seen the inside of a cop car as an adult. If you have, feel free to share your experiences in a comment or a post.

Cop cars are not necessary for the daily work of police.

Police have other ways of getting around the community than inside a squad car. They could walk, ride a bike, wear roller skates, ride a scooter, and all of these ways would bring them more in contact with the people and neighborhoods they are ostensibly protecting. By making them slow down and observe their surroundings carefully, they might become more aware of the issues city residents face. Police walked their beats for decades.

Rapid response to a 911 call is important, but we have invented radios and GPS tracking, which allow for targeted responses. Most distances within a precinct can be traversed just about as fast by bike as they can by car. If someone has to be transported back to the station, officers could radio back to the precinct for a transport request. Perhaps by removing the rolling jail cell that is a part of every cop car, we would see a drop in unnecessary bookings, and reduce the number of those traumatic interactions.

Cop cars do more harm than good.

I recall sitting on the greenway during Powderhorn 24 bicycle event a couple years ago, and seeing a cop Jeep go by, and all my fellow cyclists were upset. If they were going to send someone into the middle of this for whatever reason, couldn’t they at least have sent someone on a bike? Their callous endangerment with their giant Jeep in a car-free area during a celebration of a community and their bicycles has stuck with me.

I also recall laying on the grass at Powderhorn Park, a couple of Maydays ago. I was soaking up the first legitimate sunshine since September, and next to me, 10 feet away at best, rolls up and parks a cop car. On the grass. I thought to myself, ‘don’t we have laws against parking on the grass?’ but of course, who would I ask to give this cop car a ticket? The car was left idling, spewing gross fuel smells on my community’s peaceful afternoon. I gave up and left. Again, a lack of care for the community.

The last story I’ll share about my personal experiences with cop cars is from my seat on the bus. I used to take route 765, out to the outer parts of Brooklyn Park. After having driven on the shoulder for half an hour, dodging sofas and angry drivers, our first stop back in the city was often occupied by a cop car using the bus stop as overflow parking for the first precinct. The driver would have to figure out how to accommodate both the person with a cane who always disembarked there and the cop car gratuitously parked in the middle of the stop. I never envied that bus driver, though I always appreciated their finessing of an accordion bus around the cop car. I tried to file a 311 ticket to go through the appropriate channels to raise a concern, but the response I got was basically that they can park wherever they want whenever they want, and transit users can go pound sand.

I submitted a 311 request with a photo of a cop car at a bus stop. They accepted my request. The case was closed: Closed date 2017-09-28. Case resolved. Police vehicles are considered emergency vehicles and if the officer needs to park in that location to do his/her job than they are allowed to use those locations.
My actual 311 submitted complaint and the actual response.

The city has committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050. Every city department will have to be transformed to meet that goal. The police department is as good of a place to start as any. 

Let the police deal the city on a pedestrian’s terms, or a cyclist’s. They have had too long hiding from it from behind their protective windshields and climate-controlled cushioned seats. When the police rolled up on the shooting suspect on Nicollet Mall last week, would there have been a different outcome if they weren’t in cars? We don’t get to know.

Pine Salica

About Pine Salica

Pine lives in Minneapolis and works in Saint Paul. Pine hasn't owned a car for over a dozen years, and can count on one hand the number of times they've operated one in the last 12 months. Housing is a human right, car storage is not. Member of the Climate Committee.

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23 thoughts on “Abolish the Police Car

  1. Fred KreiderFred Kreider

    An excellent post Nicole. I’m so peeved that police SUVs are still cruising the Midtown Greenway. Whenever I see them, any solace I gained from my ride disappears. Of ALL the places that vehicles are forbidden, the Greenway is the last place one should see a vehicle as the obvious means of use is human powered and community building.
    Thank you for writing this.

    1. Pine SalicaPine Salica Post author

      Pulling them out of cars is definitely not a panacea, but it is something we could do today, tomorrow, this week, or this month. The charter needs to be changed but we have to wait on that.

  2. Skip

    One would hope that in the reform resources would be allocated according to mission requirements. Perhaps assigning cars to non-police Public safety responders. As you state… Community policing requires a deeper relationship with the community than a car may provide. Some policing tasks may also require armed rapid response teams.
    Your readers may detect a degree of irritation with the way cars have been used that you have observed. Part of that may be due to the reason a car was used as well how it was used. That should be more explicit or easily explained when reform is complete. What are the outcomes we want? What are the mission requirements that will bring the outcomes about? Too much now may be based on following a police script and not the outcome-based future multi-role public safety functions.

  3. Elizabeth Larey

    And the next time you have an accident, a break in or some other emergency, by all means call a cop and feel good about yourself when he arrives 20 minutes later on his bike. And then there’s winter. We live in a city full of violence right now and I, for one, would like more police presence. Whether it be on foot, bike or God forbid, 🚘.

    1. Christa MChrista Moseng

      Last time I had an attempted break-in they came hours later and blamed me for not having more lights and locks. Most of the time, they don’t come at all. Not clear how the car is essential to that level of service.

      1. Brian

        What if someone broke into your house and shot or stabbed a family member? Would you be okay with a 20 minute response then? Police officers have some medical training to immediately start care. In today’s world a police officer can often arrive before an ambulance.

        1. Christa MChrista Moseng

          This point is addressed in the article. Most distances within a precinct can be traversed just about as fast by bike as they can by car. I can bike halfway across the city in 20 minutes. The belief that cars get you places in the city appreciably faster is not borne out by facts over most relevant trip distances.

    2. Julie Kosbab

      If you call the police for a break-in, they take the report online or by phone. They don’t even investigate in the city.

      Accidents may require rapid response by medical personnel, but by the person filling out the report for insurance? Really, no.

      Police don’t prevent crime, and they rarely investigate crime in Minneapolis.

      1. Monte Castleman

        The Minneapolis police treat an auto burglary as a parking fee for visiting the city, not a crime to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law. Ask two friends of mine how they know…

  4. Brian

    Fire engines too. Firefighters can just ride a bike with a small fire extinguisher to a fire. (Yes, I realize most fire calls are not actually for fires.)

  5. Paul Nelson

    Thinking about the vast range of work that police do, I think it becomes a question of application of the mode of travel. There are many people using private automobiles, sometimes, or often not safely or within the laws applied to movement of autos. In various situations a police officer not using a car would be at a disadvantage responding to someone using an auto in any way that is not safe. However, I think there is broad application for a lot of police work on foot or on a bicycle in many places within a city or neighborhood.

  6. Pat ThompsonPat Thompson

    And this is the kind of thing where it seems more appropriate for EMTs to be the ones on the scene (this also covers the firefighter comment: why are firetrucks sent for EMT calls?).

    1. Megan

      Police are usually first on the scene. It’s a simple numbers game, there are more police and firefighters than there are EMTs. We could hire more EMTs who would sit around and wait for calls, or we could train the people already on the payroll with key life saving techniques and provide them with some valuable equipment. I get cars are bad on this site, but there is a clear net benefit to police cars. You can argue their numbers should be diminished, or more officers should be in a car, or less officers in a car, they should be riding bikes, skateboards, walking, or they should all be driving a Prius (side note: Jeep doesn’t make a police vehicle), but to argue for the abolition of all police cars is extremely short sighted and will cause more harm than any intended good.

      1. Pat ThompsonPat Thompson

        This is where the argument becomes circular. There are more cops because there are more cops, when part of the defund argument is that what we need is to fund services that are needed (mental health supports, etc) instead of people trained with a warrior mentality.

        1. Megan

          Circular? Hardly. You’re just trying to shift the narrative to fit your agenda. There are more police today. Even if you defund there police there will still be far more officers than EMTs. Considering the nature of a police officer (hint: first responder) they will continue to be provided life saving skills and technologies. The best tool for many of them will continue to be a police car. Feel free to reduce their numbers, retrain them, but hope as you may they’re not going away.

  7. Brian

    How about testing police cars against bicycle cops over the same routes to see who wins? These test runs would need to be on various routes on different days and times of the week to be scientific. The bike riders need to include officers of all ages, not just the youngest and fittest. Finally, testing should be done in various weather conditions including snow, rain, and cold.

    I think a police car is going to win most of the time.

  8. Joseph

    Love it. Great analogy.

    I’ll take the delayed(?) and with-less-equipment response to my police complaint in exchange for a better chance and community engagement and less abuse of power with police cruisers, just like I’ll take one fewer lane for traffic and a devoted bus lane on my thoroughfare. These ambitions are a change from the status quo and do involve trade offs, but good ones.

    Next time someone comes in my house and stabs a family member, I’ll let you all know. If the police can make it between the time I call 911 and before I’m dead or the stabber runs away, I’ll give you all $1,000. If the police can run enough stoplights and weave through traffic you’ll all get lucky. Best to preserve the status quo

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