It was mid-afternoon when the sport utility vehicles pulled up in front of Tim Mahoney’s downtown Minneapolis restaurant.
It was a sunny Friday in mid-June, a glorious time of year in Minnesota as spring turned to summer. Dining rooms statewide had just reopened after months of mandated coronavirus closures and weeks of protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death during an encounter with four city police officers. Mahoney expected a busy evening at his Loon Cafe.
But the young occupants of the SUVs had their own plans that day.
They took over the patio of the restaurant next door to the Loon, smoked pot, drank Hennessy from a bottle they’d brought, and blocked paying customers from entering.
Mahoney and the owner of the neighboring restaurant asked them to leave. They refused.
Mahony called the Minneapolis Police Department’s non-emergency line; there was nothing the police could do, they said. He tried 911, but was told no officers were available.
So Mahoney walked to a nearby police precinct and tracked down an officer he knows.
“He said, ‘Tim, we’re not coming,’” Mahoney recalled. The officer told him, “We don’t have the time. We don’t have the resources. We don’t have the manpower, and we’ve been told not to get in conflicts like this. You’re going to have to handle it yourself.”
So at 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday, Mahoney and his neighbor closed their restaurants for the day. Less than a week later, the neighboring restaurant closed for good.
Crime has been a growing concern for Mahoney and other downtown Minneapolis business owners for years. Last fall, representatives of the Minnesota Vikings, Twins, and Timberwolves authored a joint editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune urging the city’s leaders to invest in public safety for downtown Minneapolis. There weren’t enough officers, and the city “isn’t as safe as it once was,” they wrote. Other major employers have threatened to leave.
Now, in the wake of Floyd’s killing and the ensuing civil unrest in this city and others, concerns about crime are bordering on panic in some quarters of Minneapolis.
Crime skyrocketed over the summer after some far-left city leaders vowed to defund and dismantle the police department. Carjackings and violent robberies are on the rise. More than 500 people have been shot so far in 2020, double last year’s total. And the city is on pace for its highest number of homicides in more than two decades.
The turmoil and lack of support from city leadership has taken its toll on the beleaguered police force, which has seen a staggering number of officers retire and resign in the past six months. The Minneapolis Police Department is authorized for 888 officers and had an actual headcount of about 840 earlier in the year, said Bob Kroll, president of the city’s police federation.
Now, with a surge of retirements, pending retirements, and officers out on personal leave – some suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder linked to the Floyd riots – the number of Minneapolis police officers actually coming to work is down to 715, Kroll said, the lowest number since he joined the force in 1989. Kroll suspects they haven’t hit bottom yet.
“A lot of them aren’t retirements,” he said. “We’ve got a guy, he’s leaving now to go become an excavator. We’ve got a lot of other younger officers that are not retiring, but they’re going to other agencies.”
Some worry Minneapolis is in a vicious cycle: surging violence and anti-police rhetoric leads to a flood of officers leaving the force, leading to more crime, more violence, and more accusations that the city isn’t getting its money’s worth from the overworked cops who remain.
And Minneapolis isn’t alone. Police forces in big cities across the country have similarly reported “unheard of” numbers of officers retiring or otherwise leaving their forces since the streets erupted in violence after Floyd’s killing in late May.
Some of the 2020 retirements are structural, tied to a mid-’90s hiring boom and pension quirks. But police union heads and criminal-justice experts say the summer’s civil unrest, combined with anti-cop rhetoric from far-left city leaders and a lack of support from progressive rogue prosecutors, has hastened police-officer departures.
More than 2,000 officers have left the New York Police Department this year, already the most in a decade, and city leaders have slashed the department’s budget by a billion dollars.
In Chicago, officers have been retiring at double the normal clip, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. City leaders blame the retirements on a change in health-insurance benefits, but union leaders point at a lack of support from Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
In Colorado, hundreds of officers retired or resigned after the Democratic governor signed a law that made police personally and financially liable for their on-duty actions, the Denver Post reported.
In Seattle, police chief Carmen Best resigned over the summer after the city’s progressive leaders slashed her budget by $4 million and cut the force by as many as 100 officers.
Even some smaller cities have seen an uptick in retirements and resignations. In Asheville, N.C., 31 officers quit between June 1 and September 10, a number the city’s police chief called “unprecedented” and attributed to “very vocal opposition to law enforcement,” according to reporting by the Asheville Citizen-Times.
One Asheville police officer sent a going-away message to neighborhood groups he’d worked with, telling them he was moving to Colorado to start a new career because “being a cop has been very difficult for me” and “it has taken a toll on my personal life.” He was blessed, he wrote, “to exit this job with only emotional scars.”
Some business leaders and police-union heads expect the exodus of officers to continue into the new year, typically the most common time for officers to announce retirements. In the longer term, they worry that cities such as Minneapolis will hollow out as progressive leaders increasingly defang the dispirited officers that remain.
In Minneapolis, officers are discouraged from enforcing low-level, so-called “livability laws,” which prohibit things such as loitering, public gambling, and drunk and disorderly conduct. Historically, officers have used those laws as tools to check for warrants and keep illegal guns off the street, but critics say the laws are disproportionately used against minorities.
The result in Minneapolis, Mahoney said, is emboldened criminals have increasingly taken over the downtown streets, where drug-dealing and drug use now take place in the open.
Mahoney worries that sports fans, theatergoers, and law-abiding residents won’t return to downtown, even after the city comes out on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is no doubt in my mind that crime is a bigger issue in my neighborhood than COVID,” Mahoney said. “No one is going to come downtown Minneapolis if they feel unsafe.”
Many reasons police officers are leaving
To some degree, an increase in police-officer retirements was expected about now, even if there had been no global pandemic or massive anti-police protests and riots.
In the mid-1990s, there was a surge in the number of police officers hired by law-enforcement agencies around the country, in part because of then-senator Joe Biden’s controversial crime bill. In addition to imposing tougher prison sentences and funding new prisons, the 1994 bill also provided funds to put 100,000 new officers on the streets.
More than 25 years later, those officers are coming to retirement age. And with a significant uptick in overtime this year, many of those officers are incentivized by their retirement plans to leave now, after what may be their peak earning year.
“Ideally, in policing, you’ve got a steady number in and a steady number out,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
One problem with large hiring surges is the inevitable brain-drain 20 to 30 years later when those veteran officers leave, he said.
“If 500 officers leave a major police department, I don’t care if you get the 500 most qualified people you can find by way of education and diversity and commitment to the mission. You cannot . . . come close to replacing the experience you lose when a police officer retires,” Pasco said. “It will take almost a generation to catch up.”
While many big-city officers were prepping to leave law enforcement anyway, the challenges of 2020 likely pushed many of them out the door faster than they’d planned.
Because of the nature of their job, law-enforcement officers have been particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. More than 275 officers have died of COVID-19, according to FOP data, including 64 officers in Texas, 35 officers in New York, and 22 in Louisiana.
The riots, looting, and violence that followed Floyd’s death in Minneapolis – including the killing of a black police captain in St. Louis and the ambush shooting of two police officers in Los Angeles – followed by the anti-cop rhetoric from left-wing city leaders was “like gasoline in the fire in terms of attrition,” Pasco said.
“Police officers don’t sign up to get rich, and they don’t,” Pasco said. “They sign up for a variety of reasons, most of them good. They want to make a difference in the community. They want to be seen as role models. It sounds corny, they want to make things better. When the perceptions of police officers in those contexts goes away, police officers, their reaction is predictable. They’re hurt. They’re angry. They’re frustrated.”
As the Minneapolis City Council vowed to defund its police department, protesters nationwide unified under an “All Cops Are Bastards” slogan, and marched with “F*** the Police” signs.
Anti-police protests and riots have been ongoing in Portland, Ore., since late May, with regular reports of rioters throwing rocks, bottles, and mortars at officers. The protesters insist it is the police, not them, who are to blame for the violence in the city.
Prominent protest leaders in the liberal city are demanding the city’s police department be defunded, in part because “Black people live with the everyday reality of being subjected to a police occupation.”
“There is a very loud drumbeat, especially on the left, that the police are the problem, that police are systematically racist, that the criminal-justice system is systematically racist,” said Cully Stimson, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “That poisons the well right there, because the last thing you want to be called when you’re putting on the uniform and putting your life on the line is a racist.”
As police officers began retiring in droves over the summer, violent crime spiked. The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, which is tracking crime trends in 27 U.S. cities during the pandemic, found that aggravated assaults were up 14 percent in the summer of 2020 compared to summer 2019, while motor-vehicle theft was up 11 percent and homicides were up a whopping 53 percent.
In Minneapolis, police leaders were forced to gut specialty investigative units to focus on keeping up with 911 calls. The department’s violent-criminal apprehension team – the cops who track down dangerous suspects in killings, rapes, and robberies – was dismantled. Homicide investigators, whose unit is staffed at levels more appropriate for less-deadly years, are “running ragged,” Kroll said.
“The bad guys know we’re spread thin,” he said. “No proactive policing is being done. Everything is responsive.”
Earlier this month, Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo and Democratic mayor Jacob Frey were barely able to muster a majority of city-council votes for a plan to spend $500,000 to bring in help from outside agencies. Arradondo told councilmembers “our city is bleeding.” Opponents of the plan said it would make it harder to find money for mental-health responders and violence-prevention programs that proponents of fundamentally changing policing want.
The attrition at the Minneapolis Police Department is due to a “combination of everything,” Kroll said. But he believes it’s mostly a result of the “disdain” city leaders have for police.
“Can you imagine going to work every day where your employer absolutely despises you?” Kroll asked. “They don’t treat public works that way. They don’t treat fire that way.”
“This is what happens when you elect progressive activists to positions of leadership.”
The impact of rogue prosecutors
The lack of support for police isn’t just coming from progressive mayors and city councils, it’s also coming from rogue district attorneys who dismiss many of the cases police officers bring them under the guise of “prosecutorial discretion,” Stimson said.
Crime has spiked in cities such as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia after the election of progressive prosecutors who are openly attempting to reverse-engineer the criminal-justice system, which they see as racist, Stimson said. Prosecutors such as Rollins are usurping the role of state legislators by refusing to prosecute the laws they’ve passed.
“You used to have D.A.s who were pro-victim and pro-law-and-order, and now you have D.A.s who are pro-defendant and anti-police and anti-prosecution,” he said.
Last year in Boston, progressive district attorney Rachael Rollins issued a 65-page “policy memo,” laying out 15 charges her office would decline to prosecute – including trespassing, shoplifting, disorderly conduct, and drug possession – because they are typically non-violent crimes.
“If you’re a police officer in Dorchester, which is in south Boston, it’s a rough neighborhood, and you see somebody committing one of these crimes, you may as well not even arrest them,” Stimson said. “It’s a freebie for them.”
In June, after Floyd’s killing, Rollins praised local protesters and said she was exhausted because police officers “shoot us in the streets as if we were animals.” It’s ironic, she told a crowd, that the officers telling protesters not to be violent are the “very people that murder us with impunity.” Local police-union leaders called her remarks “dangerous” and “divisive.”
Pasco, the FOP director, said the anti-police rhetoric and the talk of defunding police “was a stupid idea to start with.” But reform shouldn’t be a dirty word among police officers, he said. It’s up to law enforcement not to let recent events blow over without change.
Police leaders should be open to working with any community organizations that want to make a good-faith effort to improve policing.
“It’s to all of our advantage to improve policing,” he said. “We need community support to do our jobs optimally.”
Greg Ketter, who was recently attacked inside his Minneapolis bookstore near the site of Floyd’s killing, said officers arrived to his store in minutes. He agrees that police are important, and for the most part are good at their jobs.
“I don’t believe we could do without police,” he said.
But he does believe police are stretched thin, responding to calls, particularly mental-health calls, where they have no particular expertise. Ketter believes in increasing funding for mental-health units to respond to those calls. “They just have too many things to do,” he said of police.
Kroll, the Minneapolis-police union head, said they’re up for conversations about creative ideas to save officers’ time and divert them from calls where there are better options. But the devil is in the details. He worries about the community’s reaction when a call turns deadly after a civilian responds to a heated scene rather than an armed police officer.
“The reality is you can dispatch someone to a call that seems nonviolent, … but when you get there things turn bad,” he said. “You don’t have a crystal ball to say what call is safe to send an unarmed civilian to handle.”
Reprinted with Permission from - National Review by - Ryan Mills