The Minneapolis Police Department has created a citywide rapid response unit to address emerging gang and narcotics problems, but some Southwest City Councilmembers worry the new force takes officers away from their wards.
Called STOP, for Strategic Tactical Operations, the 70-person unit will tackle the city's crime hot spots with fast, visible deployments, including foot, bike, motorcycle and mounted patrols. It will serve arrest warrants, have concentrated traffic enforcement and do high-risk searches.
Deputy Chief Sharon Lubinski said STOP's patrol team includes 20 officers from the citywide traffic unit and 15 from the K-9 unit. A bigger chunk - 32 officers and sergeants from various city precincts - includes five officers plus a sergeant from Southwest's 5th Precinct.
The unit will go anywhere in the city but police expect the unit will spend much of its time on the city's troubled North side.
Councilmember Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) said it is good to have a flexible force to deploy to trouble spots.
However, he added, "I have concerns that if we focus exclusively on one part of the city, like the North side, it will push the crime directly back to the South side," he said.
Lubinski said the North side's 4th Precinct had a 43 percent increase in shootings, stabbings and serious domestics this year by April, and the city had to act.
"Whatever we have been doing has not diminished the shootings and killings on the north side," she said. "I wish we had enough cops that we wouldn't have to take them from all the precincts. But I don't think we can ignore the shootings and the killings. That is what is driving the change."
Southwest Councilmembers Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) and Scott Benson (11th Ward) had concerns about redeploying the former citywide traffic unit to more targeted STOP patrols.
Niziolek, who heads the Council's Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, said precinct staff cuts undermine the long-term relations between community and police. STOP "is taking resources out of precincts at a time that they are already stressed," he said.
"One of the top priorities I have heard from my constituents is making our streets more livable," he said. "The STOP initiative is not doing that. In fact, it is making the streets less livable."
While the Police Department touts STOP as a way to get ahead of emerging crime problems, Niziolek called STOP a Band Aid. "How is it proactive if in fact you are only sending them to the hotspots?" he asked. "It, by nature, means you are reacting to crime."
Niziolek didn't dispute that north Minneapolis had an urgent need for more police. He said he had not supported the city's budget for three years because of public safety underfunding.
Benson said the police department did not consult the Council before creating STOP, and had it come for a vote, he probably would have opposed the change to the traffic unit.
"We created that [unit] to have uniform traffic enforcement throughout the city," Benson said. "If you are putting them in the STOP program and putting them in specified areas, it changes somewhat the intent."
Lubinski said individual precincts still had the ability to do traffic enforcement. STOP would focus on community building by attending large community events such as Cinco de Mayo and Juneteenth events, she said.
She said given the loss of 150 officers since peak staffing in the 1990s means the department has few options left to address violent crime waves.
Lubinski defended the strategy of putting police where they are needed most, including the decision to concentrate the former citywide traffic unit on STOP patrols. Those focused traffic stops are finding guns on the North side, she said.
"I would suggest in other parts of the city they wouldn't find as many guns."
Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) was on vacation and unavailable for comment. Councilmember Barret Lane (13th Ward) did not return a call.
Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) said the new STOP force was "a good thing." He said he, too, had concerns about losing precinct staff. "But we have problems all over town, more than we are going to be able to deal with," he said. "We want the ability to hit it where it is needed."
STOP has already scored a Southwest success in the arrest of four alleged serial robers (see page 3).
In addition to STOP, the police department is increasing its Downtown Safe Zone enforcement. It has created a joint command between city Police, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and the Metro Transit Police to beef up downtown policing during crime-prone evening hours, using $400,000 from one-time 2004 budget savings.
Apart from Safe Zone, Downtown will benefit from an additional 14 "summer beat" officers on Friday and Saturday evenings, June through September. Summer beats takes forgery, narcotics, sex crimes, homicide and other investigators from their regular duties and has them work downtown.
Though at either end of the economic spectrum, the beleaguered North side and high-profile downtown are getting theirs. But could the city's $400,000 be better other than the Central Business District?
In recent years, Downtown's 1st Precinct has had bigger increases in rape and aggravated assault than Southwest's 5th Precinct. Southwest has a higher number of robberies; yet, year-to-date 1st Precint robberies are up 14 percent while 5th Precinct robberies are up 4 percent. Also, downtown businesses kicked in $300,000 in private funds as an incentive for the city to spend its $400,000 in their area.