Little more than a month after her reappointment as Minneapolis’ top cop, police Chief Janeé Harteau on Monday announced new initiatives to fight crime, improve community relations and replenish the police force’s ranks.
Among the changes, Harteau said, was the creation of specialized units to investigate gun violence, gang-related crime and cold cases.
In the next few weeks, Harteau said, police leaders and City Hall will announce a “holistic” plan to address mounting violence in north Minneapolis and the downtown business district. She did not offer details of that plan.
A previously scheduled news conference to address an uptick in downtown crime, particularly around bar closing time, was rescheduled after a spate of shootings elsewhere in the city forced officials to rethink the plan, a police spokesman said.
New figures showing 22 percent of Minneapolis police officers are minorities, she said, show the department’s commitment to hiring more nonwhite and female officers to better reflect the city’s growing diversity. Four years ago, that figure was 18 percent, department personnel records show.
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Harteau said that her second term would be a continuation of a program unveiled in her first three years: the “MPD 2.0” plan, built on restoring community trust in the department.
“We’re institutionalizing all the things that are in the program,” Harteau said. “We started from the inside out: procedural justice, internally and externally, community engagement work, the internal review with the Office of Justice Programs.”
Sharp rise in crime
For the past few months, Minneapolis has had to contend with a sharp rise in violent crime — all but one of the city’s police precincts witnessed an increase — which has put Minneapolis on pace to log its deadliest year in nearly a decade. Violent crime — defined as homicides, robberies, rapes and aggravated assaults — jumped 11 percent in downtown Minneapolis, driven in large part by a 20 percent year-over-year increase in the number of serious assaults.
The sharpest increase occurred in the Second Precinct, which covers parts of northeast Minneapolis, which had a 30 percent rise in such crimes.
The city has recorded 41 homicides so far this year, including one that is being investigated as self-defense and another in which medical examiners were unable to establish whether a man shot himself or was killed by someone else. And while robberies are down citywide, aggravated assaults, which some crime experts point to as the best indicator of how safe a city is, rose about 12 percent to 1,735 from 1,553 this time last year.
Harteau disagreed with the assertion that the current social climate is making police more timid in enforcing the law.
Several top law enforcement officials, including FBI Director James Comey, recently have said that the added scrutiny and criticism of police officers may have contributed to an increase in violent crime in some big U.S. cities because officers have become less aggressive.
“In Minneapolis, everything’s up, as far as productivity and engagement, so I don’t see that,” Harteau said. “There are times where you have to look at things nationally, and you should, but there are also times were you have to look at your own city.”
For some police officials, part of the solution to the crime problem is simple mathematics.
“We’re getting to be an old department,” said police union chief Lt. Bob Kroll, adding that the police force will face an average of 20 retirements a year over the next five years.
The effect is being felt on the streets, Kroll said, where fewer officers means more crimes are going unsolved. As an example, he pointed to the dissolution of a heavily armed unit trained to respond to flare-ups of violence across the city.
Although two classes of not-quite-street-ready officers are expected to bring the department closer to its authorized strength of 860 by the end of the year, a wave of impending retirements could leave police officials facing a similar quandary in 2016.
Mayor Betsy Hodges’ 2016 budget proposal calls for increasing the department’s size to 870 sworn officers.
Harteau, whose reappointment in September came amid weeks of rumors that Hodges would not bring her back, has joined the mayor in promising to rid the department of bad apples, a vow that has drawn skepticism from some rank-and-file officers.
Harteau said that the department has adopted most of the recommendations made in a U.S. Department of Justice report that studied the MPD’s “early intervention system” for identifying and weeding out bad cops. Among the changes proposed in the report, released earlier this year, were overhauling the department’s coaching program for officers accused of minor misconduct, improving cultural sensitivity training and taking a more data-driven approach to helping supervisors identify problem cops and provide them with additional training.
The Police Conduct Oversight Commission, a civilian oversight body, also has called for the creation of a cultural sensitivity program.
A spokeswoman for Hodges didn’t respond to an e-mail request for comment on Monday afternoon.
Kroll, who has sparred publicly with the chief, on Monday praised Harteau for her commitment to the department’s officers, as the two sides navigate contract negotiations. Harteau “is committed” to seeking to make MPD competitive with other departments in terms of police salaries, Kroll said.
“She’s committed to making us a competitive paying department,” Kroll said.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter:@StribJany