Is U.S. crime wave due to ‘Minneapolis Effect’?

2020 may turn out to be one of the most violent years on record in Minneapolis with more than 400 shooting victims and 59 homicides so far, with more than three months of the year to go.  

Minneapolis is not alone; other cities have reported a spike in homicides and shootings, and one researcher is blaming it on what he calls the "Minneapolis Effect."  

“I think what Minneapolis is seeing is the same thing we’re seeing all over the country,” said Paul Cassell, a professor at S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. “We’re seeing a reduction in proactive policing, and as a result of that homicide and shootings are skyrocketing all over the country."    

In a research paper and recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Cassell said nationwide crime data shows a “structural break” in the last week of May.    

Cassell argues that the civil unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd, and the reduction of proactive policing, spread to other cities like Milwaukee, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.    

In analyzing the data, Cassell blames the Minneapolis-inspired crime wave for 710 additional homicides and 2,800 more shootings in the U.S.  The victims, he points out, are disproportionately poor people of color. Cassell contends that because police have pulled back, there are more guns on the street.  

“We are seeing a stop in proactive police - stop and frisk, and vehicle stops, and things police officers have to initiate,” Cassell said.    

But many see those traffic stops as part of the problem.    

Drivers in Minneapolis are stopped 54 percent of the time for equipment and moving violations compared to 30 percent who are white, according to data compiled by the Hennepin County Public Defender's Office.   

However, the black driver is three times more likely to have their car searched, the office found.  

“Does this strategy have any effect on violence? My impression is that it does not,” Minneapolis City Councilman Jeremiah Ellison said at a recent city council meeting where he and his fellow council members grilled Police Chief Medarria Arradondo on his plans to deal with the crime spike.  

It was a remarkable reversal for a council that had spent much of the last four months talking about defunding or dismantling the police department.    

“High crime and a lack of legitimacy cannot exist in the MPD,” Arradondo said.  “If we have high crime, and communities that don’t see us as legitimate, that is a recipe for failure.”  

The new reality is that in some of the highest crime areas neighbors are no longer calling 911, and in the so-called autonomous zone around 38th & Chicago, police are clearly no longer welcome.   

Chief Arradondo said the city must start looking at the root causes of homicide the way accident investigators reconstruct plane crashes.

"If we do nothing, we will end this year with numbers that are unconscionable in terms of community violence, we will go on to the next year, and we won’t do a deep dive as to what caused this," Arradondo said. 

Even as the MPD shrinks, the mayor’s new budget calls for another $2.5 million in the city’s violence intervention program, and so-called violence interrupters, some with former gang connections who know the streets.    

Dallas Drake has been studying Minneapolis homicide trends for nearly 30 years at the Center for Homicide Research based in Minneapolis.

He said many of the programs the city is developing are based on programs in other cities with unproven track records. 

"It is like a carnival. There are so many different programs and because of the political pressure to come up with something new.  They take programs from other cities because it’s easy to rename them, basically reworking of programs from other cities, many of which do not work," Drake said. 

He describes the recent crime wave as recreational violence. “Mayhem is free. You just go out on the street and it begins," said Drake.

Lisa Clemons has seen the violence from both sides. The former Minneapolis Police officer is director of Mother’s Love Initiative, an outreach group. 

Clemons surrounds her office with poster paper and the names of black men and women killed by gun violence. Clemons believes the violence in the city is related to the abolish police moment. 

“When you say, 'abolish the police, we want the police gone,' everything in a negative term, you don’t think they hear that?” asked Clemons. 

Clemons, who began her career with Arradondo when they were both rookies, believes he is the right man for the times and could strike the right balance. 

But he's also caught in the middle, between a crime wave and a city council that wants less, even as they ask for more. 

"Cops who really wanted to be cops will do what they have to do, other cops are like 'I got a family to feed, I’ll go to 911 calls but I’m not going to do anything extra.'  And I don’t blame them, I don’t blame them," Clemons concluded.