Minneapolis’s murder rate peaked in 1995; that year the New York Times dubbed Minneapolis “Murderapolis.” Gangs had taken over the city’s poorest neighborhoods and gang crime had become highly visible. In 1996 three Minneapolis officers were dispatched to New York City to study the “broken windows” crime-prevention program which had been implemented by Rudy Giuliani and Police Chief William Bratton.
Upon their return to Minneapolis, the officers helped introduce a version of that program they named “CODEFOR.” Then-Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and then-Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson supported the implementation of the program and were delighted to claim credit for its success, which was virtually immediate.
By the fall of 2002, however, two high-profile murders suggested that gangs had retaken the streets and that Murderapolis had returned. In September, 19-year-old University of Minnesota student-athlete Brandon Hall was gunned down by a thug in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Hall had survived the mean streets of Detroit only to lose his life a year after moving to Minneapolis to fulfill his dream of playing Big 10 football. In November, 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards was shot and killed while she studied at home with her younger sister at her side, caught in the crossfire of a shootout among three gang members. Chief Olson memorably commented: “This is just another case of someone who’s mad at somebody else getting mad and firing shots.”
What happened between 2000 and 2005 to cause the sharp deterioration in the progress made in controlling Minneapolis crime? Minneapolis is a case study in the destructive effects of one-party liberal rule and a stultifying political culture.
Starting in the spring of 2000, the Minneapolis Police Department voluntarily collected data on the race of drivers stopped in routine traffic checks. Chief Olson reported the results in January; both he and Mayor Sayles Belton contributed to the predictable charges of “racial profiling” that followed the announcement of the results. Olson was quoted observing that “there is a problem, but we don’t know the level of it and how, yet, to identify it.” Sayles Belton pronounced herself disappointed but not surprised by the numbers. Chief Olson submitted the data to Minneapolis’s “independent” (liberal) Council on Crime and Justice, a key purveyor of the “racial disparities” line of attack on law enforcement.
The results of the Council’s study were released in April 2001 and produced an occasion for the Star Tribune to trumpet “racial disparities” in traffic stops, although the report itself was agnostic on the question of “racial profiling.” The Star Tribune has observed a strict taboo against an exploration of the connection between “racial disparities” in traffic stops and other law enforcement outcomes and racial disparities in crime rates.
More important than the Star Tribune’s superficial coverage of the traffic stop data was the lack of support for the police on the part of both the mayor and the chief. Not surprisingly, Minneapolis police officers reacted accordingly, reducing traffic stops and other discretionary enforcement activity that had helped get gangs off the streets just a few years earlier. Minneapolis has not been the same since.