At least partly in response to the City Pages article on staffing in the Sex Crimes Unit, the Minneapolis Police Department today gave a presentation to the Public Safety & Regulatory Services committee on their staffing and case clearance rates.
This article and conversation have strengthened my resolve to resist the pressure to commit a larger and larger portion of our police resources to patrol. Officers on the street are extremely important, but investigations are no less important. Right now, 75% of our officers are assigned to patrol. I am interested in having an open, public discussion about whether that's the right balance.
Chief Dolan is fond of saying that "a crime prevented is worth 10 times as much as a crime solved," (and he's quoted to this effect in the City Pages article). I agree with him wholeheartedly, but where I start to disagree with both the Chief and some of my colleagues is when we try to put this idea into practice. I'm not convinced that the number of officers on the street has as clear a correlation with reductions in crime as common wisdom holds. I'm also completely convinced that in some cases, solving crimes can be the best way to prevent future crimes.
For example, the Seward neighborhood, which I represent, shows all the signs of being in the midst of a major burglary epidemic. From conversations I've had with the Crime Prevention Specialist for the neighborhood, among others in the Police Department, there is evidence that many of the burglaries are being perpetrated by the same small group of people. If and when these folks can be caught and convicted, this will clearly prevent some burglaries in Seward from taking place.
One of the more disappointing responses to the City Pages article that I have seen is that the staffing level is actually significantly worse in other units than it is in the Sex Crime Unit. The Robbery Unit, for instance, has seven times as many cases and less staff.
For this reason, among others, I am interested in seeing the addition of case clearance rates to the Police Department's formal business plan goals and performance measures, as the Council moved to require last year by adopting the Safe City Initiative I co-authored with Council members Hodges and Glidden. I am also interested in pursuing having conviction rates added to the Police Department's goals and performance measures as well.
Responding to crime of all kinds is about more than putting officers on the street, measuring crime rates, 911 response time and arrest rates. It's also about what we do when a crime is committed and reported, and how successful we are in our efforts to hold people who have violated the law accountable. I worry that too much of our focus has been on crime rates and arrest rates, without enough focus on outcomes.
I'd like to change that.