Mpls., St. Paul Police Unions Echo FBI Chief’s Concerns About ‘Ferguson Effect’

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Calls to hold police officers more accountable for their actions could be part of what’s causing violent crime to spike across the country, according to the top law enforcement official in the country—and now, some officers in the Twin Cities as well.

The theory is that ever since the events in Ferguson last year, and the increasing number of police brutality videos and criminal indictments of police officers in its wake, some officers are pursuing some crime less aggressively, fearing a misstep could cost them their careers.

On Friday, the head of the FBI, James Comey, said the so-called “Ferguson effect” could be contributing to climbing violent crime rates in large U.S. cities. On Monday, the police officers’ unions in both Minneapolis and St. Paul told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that the effect is likely happening here as well.

Sandy Solarz has spent 22 years at the corner of 52nd and Bryant avenues in north Minneapolis. Crime there has deep roots.

“We’ve had shootings. My house has got bullet holes in it. I’ve been robbed three times,” Solarz said.

“Just stop the violence. Just stop shooting, period,” Brandon Wright, Solarz’s neighbor, said.

The number of people shot in the fourth precinct, which includes that part of north Minneapolis, is up 7 percent compared to last year. Violent crime overall is up five percent in Minneapolis, and 8 percent in St. Paul.

Lt. Bob Kroll, the head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said the “Ferguson effect” may be one reason why.

“When you think that officers aren’t stopping suspicious persons like they used to or taking as many guns off the street, more guns are out there,” Kroll said.

Kroll said cops are very much doing their jobs—just more cautiously.

“You can only assume that the cops are going to be second-guessing themselves, thinking, ‘Should I engage? Should I do this, or should I not?'” Kroll said. “They see people getting in trouble for everything they do. They’re second-guessed. They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t these days.”

“They’re being more cautious just because I think they’re worried things are going to escalate,” Solarz said.

Solarz said crime in her neighborhood is on the decline, thanks in part to newly-installed cameras.

Still, she said if police want more support from the community, they need to do a better job planting the seed of cooperation.

“They need to get out in the community and patrol, and get out of their cars and talk to people,” Solarz said.

The Minneapolis Police Department has recently repeatedly pointed to its growing community outreach efforts, the goal of which is to increase trust between officers and the citizens they serve. But the department declined to comment on the “Ferguson effect” issue.

The theory is nearly impossible to prove, and many national law enforcement officials said there are other reasons for rising crime rates, including cheaper drugs and fewer criminals being kept in jail.

http://kstp.com/article/stories/s3945233.shtml