Mixed messages arise in new crime report

Budget plans allowing for new community service officers will hopefully help curb violence.

Jared Rogers-Martin

Last Thursday, the Minneapolis Police Department held a press conference to release the crime report for 2014. The report, presented by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janeé Harteau at the Hennepin County library, heralds a “30-year low” in crime for Minneapolis.

While overall crime rates in Minneapolis are down, violent crime increased by 1 percent, and aggressive assault rose by almost 2 percent citywide.

Hodges offered her assurance that “Minneapolis is a safe city,” but she also noted that “it is safer for some than it is for others.” The “others” in her statement refer to residents between the ages of 18 and 24, who have an increased likelihood of falling victim to a violent crime.

Violent crime on the University of Minnesota campus dropped nearly 12 percent. However, in the surrounding neighborhoods of Northeast and St. Anthony, violent crime rose.

The messages from this press release confuse me. If crime is lower but violent crime has increased, is Minneapolis actually safer? Mixing public relations with police work should establish trust and an increased sense of safety. After all, the police are supposed to be a trustworthy force that protects the people from the people.

In a report published by the Star Tribune, Lt. Mike Sauro of the MPD attributes the department’s success in lowering crime to the use of “broken window theory” tactics. This type of police work stops just short of being called “profiling.”

Broken window theory proponents believe that by arresting people for small, petty crimes — vandalism, loitering and public drunkenness, for example — they remove people from the streets who would later commit larger, more dangerous crimes.

Furthermore, broken window theory tactics establish the perception of a hard and strong police presence. This type of profiling might dissuade petty crime and lower the crime statistics for a city, but it also generates mistrust and suspicion between the community and the police force.

The real victory for Minneapolis comes from the budget allocations for the Minneapolis Police Department. Harteau unveiled her plan to hire new community service officers dedicated to fielding and recording complaints from Minneapolis neighborhoods. The officers would use these complaints as contacts to build a bridge for better communication between the department and the city residents.

This type of “open door” policing should mend the public relation wounds left by broken window tactics. Effective police work should not be a game of good cop versus bad cop. Hodges is right — Minneapolis is a safe city.

But to remain a safe city, consistent practices of respect and communication should be the primary focus among those who took an oath to protect and serve.