As the trial of former Minneapolis police officer George Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd was set to open Monday, the city is still groping its way through conflicting proposals about police reform. A pledge by most City Council members in June to create a new system of public safety met with fierce resistance and has since given way to a grab bag of efforts that have yet to prove their effectiveness and have left the city fractured, reports the New York Times.
Cities all across America last year faced a surge in violence, fueled in part by the economic despair and alienation brought on by the pandemic, criminologists said. Minneapolis was no exception: It saw a 25 percent increase in homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults. In the area around George Floyd Square, the name given to the corner where he was killed that includes the areas of Powderhorn Park, Central, Bryant and Bancroft, violent crime shot up by 66 percent last year, according to statistics from the Police Department.
Residents and city leaders have debated the role that the department’s depleted ranks have played in the uptick of violence since around 200 have officers left the force over the last year, many due to PTSD.
With staffing shortages, officers have found themselves bouncing from call to call, with little opportunity to engage with the community, and many will have to work 12 hour shifts as the Derek Chauvin case comes closer to a decision.
Meanwhile, supporters of defunding the police have applauded steps to redirect $8 million from the Police Department’s budget, which now sits at about $170 million. Some of those funds have gone to the Office of Violence Prevention, which has seen its budget grow more than fourfold over the past year to about $7 million.
The office is using that money to expand programs that offer social services, said Sasha Cotton, its director, and developing a program modeled after Cure Violence, a national violence-intervention initiative.
The city’s version will consist of six teams of about 15 people, some former gang members, working in communities to settle any simmering disputes that may lead to violence. The impending ruling in the Chauvin case hangs over every reform decision as many fear that an acquittal could set back the work that has been done to reform public safety and to attempt healing, and put the city right back where it was last summer with buildings ablaze and the streets roiling with anger.
Editor’s Note: See the videotaped panel about defunding with Minneapolis council member Steve Fletcher and others during the 2021 H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America.