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Star Tribune Counterpoint: There ought be a law to prevent that … Oh, wait!

Minneapolis had a lurking law that helped head off trouble. Then political correctness struck.

In the wake of more downtown shootings, it’s great that Minneapolis leaders are making new plans and that the Star Tribune Editorial Board is forwarding their ideas (“Yet another round of shots fired in Mpls.,” Oct. 7). But where was clear thinking last summer, when the “lurking” ordinance was being repealed and police union leader Lt. Bob Kroll was pleading with the City Council to not take this “very useful tool” away from law enforcement?

Nearly everyone was in favor of repealing the lurking law, which prohibited outlaws from lying “in wait” or being “concealed with intent to commit any crime or unlawful act.” The reason was concern that the law was used against blacks at a rate much higher than their ratio in the population. That complaint represents a fundamentally false narrative that the media has done nothing to correct or even challenge.

Elementary logic demands that policing be measured against crime rates, not population ratios. Police go where the most people are being victimized and, unfortunately, blacks are committing crimes at rates significantly higher than their percentage of the population.

What could have prevented this latest shooting? As Katherine Kersten recently explained on these pages (“By ignoring facts — who commits crime, and how policies support it — we make policing impossible,” Aug. 7), the lurking ordinance was an important proactive policing tool that prevents bigger crimes:

“Police say the lurking ordinance allowed them to stop and question people acting suspiciously. It helped prevent bigger crimes, like burglary, and to get guns off the street. One veteran officer (who wished to remain anonymous) estimates that the 400 or so lurking charges filed from 2009 to 2014 probably led to 2,000 arrests for bigger crimes.”

But even worse, this misguided policy has emboldened criminals and put police on the defensive:

“Today, gangbangers and criminals are more emboldened than he’s ever seen them, says [retired Minneapolis police Sgt. Tim] Hoeppner. ‘They know the cops are afraid to stop and confront them about their guns. They taunt and catcall and spit at the cops’ feet, and then pull out their cellphones to video any reaction. They know there will be no consequences.’

“ ‘If the City Council members would ever take a walk down Hennepin Avenue at midnight,’ Hoeppner adds, ‘they would understand how badly their policies are hurting the city.’ Especially at bar closing, large, moblike groups block sidewalks, steal cellphones, and harass or sucker-punch people.”

What preceded the recent shooting? According to the Star Tribune’s news story (“Shootings spark pledge for gang reform efforts,” Oct. 4): “Shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday, a call went out over emergency frequencies alerting downtown police officers about a large group of North Side gang members who were walking in the area of the First Precinct police station on Fourth Street, according to scanner traffic. Moments later, shots rang out.”

It’s very possible that last year’s repeal of the lurking ordinance played a role in creating an environment that led to these shootings. It’s likely that these gangs learned over the summer that large groups could wander downtown with impunity, that cops were powerless to disperse them or check them for outstanding warrants or illegal weapons.

It’s time for Minneapolis to put public safety ahead of political correctness and not take away from police important tools they need to control crime.

Peter Zeller is director of operations at Center of the American Experiment.

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