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.
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.