Citing racial disparities, Minneapolis to end low-level marijuana stings

Minneapolis is working on a plan to discontinue low-level marijuana stings, a policy shift that follows similar changes in cities throughout the country and comes at the request of Mayor Jacob Frey.

The announcement was made at a press conference Thursday morning by Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and comes on the heels of a Hennepin County Public Defenders report that showed a large disparity in the number of marijuana arrests performed on African-Americans in downtown Minneapolis.

The plan would specifically end law enforcement efforts targeting low-level marijuana possession and sales, though Arradondo did indicate the city would continue making other marijuana arrests for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, city leaders say they're planning to sit down with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and others to nail down exact protocols for both officers in the field and prosecutors who will explore "charging alternatives" for those caught with small amounts of the drug.

At the press conference, Arradondo said he agrees with the decision and hopes it will begin to address "systemic issues" and racial disparities still present in the city. 

"The MPD wishes to be a partner with our community stakeholders in these efforts that reduce the number of African American males entering our criminal justice system," Arradondo said. "The goal here is to keep our city safe but we also want to contribute to a sense of hope that our African-American community is not experiencing at this time."

Since the beginning of the year the police department has been working on an initiative to stop drug dealing in downtown Minneapolis, with a specific focus on the area around the 5th Street light rail platform. According to the HCPD report 46 of the 47 arrests made for small amounts of marijuana as a result were performed on African-Americans, an "unintended consequence" that didn't sit well with city officials and many residents who see the issue as just one part of a larger problem.

On Thursday, Arradondo spoke of the announcement as a "call to action" and hoped for a buy-in from the community on issues of inequality and racial outcomes.

"The number of particularly African-American males who feel that their only choice to survive and provide for themselves by selling drugs is something that deeply concerns me as a chief and as a citizen," he said. "Too often in our society the police department is looked at as the one to solve this problem, and it’s far greater than just us."

Statement from Chief Medaria Arradondo:

"The Minneapolis Police Department does not make the laws officers are sworn to enforce. We do not have the option to pick and choose which laws we enforce. However, we can control how we, as a law enforcement agency, conduct details (operations targeting specific crimes and/or issues). In this particular instance, I’m only speaking about details; narcotics details in particular. In consultation with the Mayor’s Office, the MPD will no longer engage in any details specifically focused on “low level” marijuana.
Details focusing solely on “low level” marijuana offenses have produced an unintended consequence; one we must confront together as a community.
Recently criminal justice system workers studied downtown public safety details and a concern was raised over the disproportionate number of African American males arrested for small amounts of marijuana during these details. These 1st Precinct public safety details were focused on reducing violent crime and improving livability conditions, and I want to commend 1st Precinct officers for achieving the goals we set earlier this year. Their hard work and attention to detail has produced both a reduction in violent crime and an overall improvement in livability conditions in the Downtown area.
It is important to note the details did not focus on specific demographics. Instead, they focused on behaviors that drew officers’ attention to criminal activity. Every aspect of the MPD’s service is centered on Procedural Justice; treating people with respect, giving them voice, being neutral and building spaces of trust. The officers’ actions as we conducted these details were professional and legal.
However, as the Chief, I need to raise my voice when I see a concern that impacts our city as a whole.
I need to speak up when I see major problems, and from what I have observed, some of the conduct downtown is alarming and has prompted me to ask for a community “Call to Action.” I believe there is a large number of African American males who feel their only choice to survive and provide for themselves is by selling illegal narcotics. That deeply troubles me as a Chief and as a citizen. I never want the MPD to contribute to a sense of hopelessness to our community and I also know police cannot solve this problem alone. Solutions will require a collaborative effort to address these systemic challenges that, unfortunately, are still present in our great city."