Commentary on Lurking Repeal
I recently crafted a statement on the lurking repeal which served as the foundation of a commentary in tomorrow mornings Star Tribune. Since they did not have room to publush the entire piece I decided to share it here. In it I have tried to capture what I think are the most important points and relevant facts. It will also serve as the basis for the comments I will make at the City Council meeting Friday where this will be considered.
Since the Brooking Institute’s Mind the Gap report first made headlines in 2005, Minneapolis has done a lot we can be proud of to help close the significant racial and economic disparities the report identified as detrimental to the region’s future economic well being.
When the new City Council took office in 2006, it pointed the City in a new strategic direction where “all Minneapolis residents will have a better quality of life and access to housing and services.” It called for “one Minneapolis” where “there will be living-wage jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities for everyone” and we will “close the race and class gaps” in “housing, educational attainment and health.”
Later in 2006, the City and County plan to end homelessness was unanimously approved and called for us to “change the paradigm from managing homelessness to ending it, from funding programs to investing in the community, from serving people to partnering with people to achieve self-sufficiency” and to “eliminate panhandling and other livability issues through providing prevention and outreach services.”
In 2007, the City approved an ambitious multi-year Blueprint for Action to curb youth violence in Minneapolis. It called on us to change “our mindset from focusing solely on punishment” and to re-connect “youth exhibiting risky behavior with quality education and employment opportunities.”
This spring, when faced with the facts that 43% of Black Minneapolitans live in poverty, compared to 11% of Whites, and that the unemployment rate for Blacks it is nearly 14%, compared to 4% for Whites, we created a new Minneapolis/Hennepin County Racial Disparities Steering Committee to help focus on disparities in poverty, education and employment.
Now, on June 20, the Council has the chance to take another step to build on this record of redefining our approach to public safety and public policy by attacking the real causes of crime and violence and by addressing the persistent and costly disparities that exist in our City. We will consider the repeal of our lurking ordinance. This ordinance is short and states in its entirety: “Lurking. No person, in any public or private place, shall lurk, lie in wait or be concealed with intent to commit any crime or unlawful act.”
While on its face this law is clearly vague, overbroad and possibly unconstitutional, its connection to race and class disparities may be a little harder to see.
Consider the following:
Of the 167 people arrested or cited for lurking in Minneapolis in 2006, 133, or more than 80%, were people of color. In 2007, of the 231 people arrested in lurking incidents 70% were people of color.
In 2006, the Council on Crime and Justice published a report, “Reducing Racial Disparity While Enhancing Public Safety,” that examined the complex, sometimes subtle but often far reaching effects of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Minneapolis’ lurking law was highlighted: “The racial disparity is larger for low level offenses where police officer discretion is greatest. In 2001 the equivalent of one out of four Black residents were cited for such low level offenses as disorderly conduct, loitering and lurking. For whites, the number was one in 60.” The report articulated the connection between arrest records (even when charges were dismissed or people were acquitted) and the long lasting obstacles to employment and housing that they often create.
Unsuccessful prosecution seems to be the norm for our lurking cases. Of the 136 adults arrested for Lurking last year, only 77 cases (or 56%) went on to be tried by the City Attorney's Office. 19 of these individuals were convicted. That means there was a successful prosecution rate of 25% and an overall conviction rate resulting from the 136 arrests of 14%. In other words, 85% of adults arrested for lurking in 2007 have not been convicted. This is the worst conviction rate of any of our so-called “livability crimes,” and is a far cry from the City’s goal of increasing the conviction rates on livability crimes to 65%.
The costs of these unsuccessful prosecutions are harder to measure. Two nights in jail cost tax payers $230 per person. Since 2003 we have spent at least $184,000 just processing the tickets involved and no one has even begun to estimate the much higher costs to the police department, attorney’s office, pubic defenders and community corrections.
While the lurking ordinance rarely leads to conviction and consumes precious public safety dollars, it also does something more subtle and more costly to the future health of our City: it increases the racial and economic disparities that plague us. Having a lurking arrest on their record increases the barriers that keep our fellow Minneapolitans locked in poverty and homelessness. It makes it harder to get a job, harder to find a home and less likely that one will get the educational and health services needed to be a successful and productive participant in society.
The convincing case that the Lurking ordinance is necessary to public safety has not been made. In a study of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. we found that 87 do not prohibit lurking at all. Five prohibit it only with concealed weapons, two refer to it in their loitering ordinances and only two (Grand Rapids and Minneapolis) have distinct “lurking” ordinances. It is easy to see how most cities do without it. Police already have numerous alternative ordinances they can use and the ability to question any person if they suspect criminal activity in order to determine if there is probable cause to make an arrest.
I believe it is time to repeal Minneapolis’ lurking ordinance, and I am not alone. This effort is formally supported by the following: Access Works!, African American Family Services, African American Men’s Project, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Barbara Schneider Foundation, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), Church of St. Stephen’s, Council on Black Minnesotans, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Elim Transitional Housing, Homeless Against Homelessness, Human Right to Housing Committee, Integrated Community Solutions Inc., Jewish Community Action, Legal Rights Center, Metrowide Engagement on Shelter and Housing, Minneapolis Urban League, Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, Our Savior’s Outreach Ministries, Peace House, Sabathani Community Center, Salvation Army, Simpson’s Housing Services, St. Stephen’s Human Services, The Advocates for Human Rights, Twin Cities Community Voicemail, White Earth Urban Office, Women Planting Seeds and 180 Degrees, Inc.
By taking the step Friday of removing this ineffective law, we can continue to build on our powerful and positive record of the past few years. We can be a national leader by following the lead of our plans to reduce youth violence, end homelessness and reduce racial disparities. We can move closer to creating a system of community-centered policing and social services that deal effectively and constructively with the underlying causes of crime as we attack the racial and economic disparities outlined in the Mind the Gap report, and not only make our region more economically competitive but safer and more just as well.