Cedar-Riverside welcomes new Somali beat cops

The first precinct assigned two Somali beat officers to the neighborhood in the hopes that trust between police and the community can be built.

Lolla Mohammed Nur

For years, Minneapolis police have struggled to gain the trust of the Somali community in Cedar-Riverside. The first precinct assigned two Somali beat officers to the neighborhood in the hopes that trust between police and the community can be built. Abdiwahab Ali , who was transferred from the fifth precinct per his request, and Mohamed Abdullahi , who has been working for three years as a patrol officer in the first precinct, officially started working together Sunday as night beat officers. Both are fairly new to the Minneapolis Police Department, and both wanted to work together in Cedar-Riverside. âÄúWhen you have officers who want to work together on a beat, it makes it so much better for the community and for us,âÄù said Kristine Arneson, first precinct inspector who recently transferred from the fifth precinct. âÄúThe community will love them and think of them as theirs, and the cops will think of the area as their own, so theyâÄôll take care of it.âÄù She said beat officers are unique because they donâÄôt respond to 911 calls; they only handle radio calls in their sector. âÄúBeat work is more boots-on-the-ground work,âÄù Arneson said. âÄú[The officers] are our direct communication between people who live and work in the community.âÄù Arneson said each day Cedar-Riverside had two different beat cops, so no relationship was built. âÄúI donâÄôt think the community even knew there were beat cops,âÄù she said. Community organizer Hani Mohamed said the community is excited for the new officers, especially because they are Somali. âÄúThis will help because people will feel comfortable,âÄù Mohamed said. âÄúTheyâÄôll have someone they can relate to, and the elders wonâÄôt need an interpreter.âÄù She also said there were complaints in the past about police treatment of youth. âÄúThis will absolve that. âĦ We need to collaborate and help each other for the common good of community.âÄù Russom Solomon , chairman of the West Bank Community CoalitionâÄôs Safety Committee, said there is a huge gap in the ratio of police officers in Cedar-Riverside to the neighborhoodâÄôs population. âÄúThis is a highly densely populated area. WeâÄôre always advocating for more police,âÄù he said. âÄúThis time itâÄôs the type of officers thatâÄôs significant, and this is happening even though the police department has faced a budget cut, so this is a big deal for us.âÄù He added that residents donâÄôt report crime because of a lack of trust. âÄúWeâÄôre shooting ourselves because police presence depends on how many 911 calls are placed,âÄù he said. âÄúWe have to report it so statistics donâÄôt say we donâÄôt need more officers.âÄù Apart from the triple homicide in the Seward neighborhood earlier this month, Solomon said crime in the Somali community decreased by 50 percent in the past year. This is a significant improvement since 2008, when there was a spike in violence in Cedar-Riverside. That was when the neighborhood began requesting beat officers, Jennifer Blevins, director of the Brian Coyle Center said. When the police department said it needed more funds to support an increased police presence, Sherman Associates âÄî the owner of Riverside Plaza âÄî donated $20,000, and the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization program offered $5,000. Arneson said those funds are used only when off-duty officers are occasionally needed; the beat officersâÄô salary comes from the city. âÄúEven though [the MPD] faced budget cuts, I had committed to Cedar having beat officers because I made a promise,âÄù Arneson said. âÄúBrian Coyle and Cedar are a priority.âÄù After the funds were secured, it took one year for the beat officers to finally be assigned to their positions. Arneson said the delay was partly because she had to negotiate the transfer of Ali with the fifth precinct commander. But the main reason for the delay, she said, was a lack of interest among officers to work in Cedar-Riverside because of the perception that the community doesnâÄôt like the police. She said the relationship between police and Cedar-Riverside residents is on a âÄúgood path.âÄù âÄúThere still are tensions, but itâÄôs something we need to work on. ItâÄôs a long process,âÄù she said.