Skoog: No justice, no peace, more police?

Communities with high crime rates need more resources and goals of long-term crime prevention, not an increased police presence.

by Caroline Skoog

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo requests that 400 officers be added to the Minneapolis Police Department by 2025. Arradondo contends that the current police force, consisting of 888 officers, is stretched too thin to adequately respond to the amount of 911 calls in the Minneapolis area.

Given the MPD’s repugnant past, including, but not limited to the murders of unarmed 28-year-old David Smith in 2010, 24-year-old Jamar Clark in 2015, and Justine Damond in 2017, it’s difficult to envision that adding more police will be the harbinger of de-escalation. Moreover, murders committed by police officers hardly represent the totality of departmental misconduct. 

With its history of brutal discrimination, not to mention the fact that Minneapolis cops haven’t been required to live in the precinct that they police since 1999, increasing law enforcement’s presence doesn’t seem like a move to strengthen community ties. Rather, an effort to subjugate marginalized communities. 

To argue that these murders were the result of a few bad-apple cops is to ignore the systemic enforcement, upheld by the police force, designed to criminalize and incarcerate marginalized communities– specifically communities of color. Similarly, arguing that criminals are instances of individual misbehavior neglects the social, political, and economic structures in place that corner a person into criminal activity. Poverty and lack of resources are the root causes of crime. Because these issues correspond to geography, neighborhoods with higher levels of crime endure perpetual neglect of resources, in effect fortifying economic disparities between communities. 

Justice for a community is not simply “locking up the bad guys.” Crime reduction is more than a matter of police patrol, which prioritizes reactionary work. Investing in long-term crime reduction means supplying the resources linked to crime prevention: workforce development, youth and neighborhood programs, accessible substance abuse treatment facilities, and public education. A study conducted at New York University demonstrated this hypothesis when researching the impact of new, crime-prevention oriented nonprofits on crime rate in 264 cities from 1990 to 2013. The results showed that in a city of 100,000, each nonprofit organization accomplished a 1.2 percent decrease in the homicide rate, a one percent decrease in violent crime, and a 0.7 percent decrease in property crime. 

Arradondo’s emphasis on 911 calls as the reason for increasing the police force raises the question of what the police are currently tasked with. 911 calls consist of varying crises, many of which do not require an armed police officer. For example, in situations involving mental or behavioral health 911 can be called without the need of an armed officer present. Granted, police do possess some form of mental health training, but the presence of law enforcement officials can be intimidating and stigmatizing for people with mental illness. Wouldn’t a response from a specialized mental health professional be more effective? If the police force is as stretched as Arradondo says, why not delegate certain responsibilities– which don’t require a gun and badge– to specialists like social workers within the community? 

As of 2019, the police comprise 11 percent of the city budget.  Allocating more funds to the police department, by nature of a budget, divests from community resources that focus on disrupting patterns of crime. More cops is a reactionary maneuver rather than a proactive solution. The rate of crime in Minneapolis cannot be addressed without taking its underlying causes into account.