By The Vanguard Staff
GREEN VALLEY, MN – A New York Times opinion piece this week notes, “In a staggering report last month, the Department of Justice documented pervasive abuse, illegal use of force, racial bias and systemic dysfunction in the Minneapolis Police Department.”
Radley Balko wrote, “City police officers engaged in brutality or made racist comments, even as a department investigator rode along in a patrol car. Complaints about police abuse were often slow-walked or dismissed without investigation. And after George Floyd’s death, instead of ending the policy of racial profiling, the police just buried the evidence.”
But Balko added, the “Minneapolis report was shocking, but it wasn’t surprising. It doesn’t read much differently from recent Justice Department reports about the police departments in Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Ferguson, Mo., or any of three recent reports from various sources about Minneapolis, from 2003, 2015 and 2016.
“Amid spiking nationwide homicide rates in 2020 and 2021 and a continuing shortage of police officers, many in law enforcement have pointed to investigations like these—along with ‘defund the police’-style activism—as the problem.”
Balko, however, suggests arguments that officers can’t do their job because of criticism of their work—in short, “Fewer police officers, more crime”—are wrong.
The proposition that the public “can have accountable and constitutional policing, or you can have safety. But you can’t have both” is maybe also wrong, Balko opines.
“But the studies don’t account for factors that the Minneapolis report highlights—the social costs of police brutality and misconduct, how they can erode public trust, how that erosion of trust affects public safety—and they don’t account for the potential benefits of less coercive, less confrontational alternatives to the police.
“We don’t have as many studies that take those factors into account, but to see the effects in real time, you need only step over the Minneapolis city line,” cites the author, pointing to Golden Valley, a suburb of Minneapolis of about 22,000 with the median annual household income topping $100,000, very little crime
Balko said nearby is the neighborhood of Willard-Hay, with a median household income of only $55,000 and “quite a bit more crime. Willard-Hay is 26 percent white and 40 percent Black. Golden Valley is 85 percent white and five percent Black—the result of pervasive racial covenants.”
“The residents of the strongly left-leaning town decided change was necessary. One step was eliminating those racial covenants. Another was changing the Police Department, which had a reputation for mistreating people of color,” by hiring Officer Alice White, the force’s first high-ranking Black woman, and Virgil Green, the town’s first Black police chief.
“When I started, Black folks I’d speak to in Minneapolis seemed surprised that I’d been hired,” Chief Green said, adding when speaking Balko, “They told me they and most people they knew avoided driving through Golden Valley.”
Balko then reported, “Members of the overwhelmingly white police force responded to both hires by quitting—in droves.”
The author added, “An outside investigation later revealed that some officers had run an opposition campaign against Chief Green. One of those officers recorded herself making a series of racist comments during a call with city officials, then sent the recording to other police officers. She was fired—prompting yet another wave of resignations.”
In just two years, more than half the department quit their six-figure jobs in a town with little crime.
Chief Green said, according to Balko, “It’s hard not to think that they just don’t want to work under a Black supervisor.”
But crime, already low in Golden Valley, has drastically been reduced as the number of police officers decreased, said Balko.
“The town plans to staff the department back up, just not right away,” wrote Balko, adding the city wants, he said, quoting officials, to “take the time to hire officers who share our vision and are excited to work toward our goals.”
This suburb may not be alone, said Balko, writing, “When New York’s officers engaged in an announced slowdown in policing in late 2014 and early 2015, civilian complaints of major crime in the city dropped. And despite significant staffing shortages at law enforcement agencies around the country, if trends continue, 2023 will have the largest percentage drop in homicides in U.S. history.”
Noting less crime may be because of “depolicing,” Balko said “At the very least, the steady stream of Justice Department reports depicting rampant police abuse ought to temper the claim that policing shortages are fueling crime.
“It’s no coincidence that the cities we most associate with violence also have long and documented histories of police abuse. When people don’t trust law enforcement, they stop cooperating and resolve disputes in other ways.”
“Instead of fighting to retain police officers who feel threatened by accountability and perpetuate that distrust, cities might consider just letting them leave,” Balko said in his New York Times opinion.