Fewer police, more crime — the truth behind the data

Several media outlets and many politicians would have us believe that Minneapolis is becoming safer at the same time its police force is shrinking. The not-so-subtle takeaway being that fewer police officers can reduce crime. 

The most recent effort appeared in today’s Star Tribune with an article headline that read: “In Minneapolis, police staffing levels continued to drop in 2023. So did crime.” A more accurate headline would have read: “City unable to recruit or retain officers, underperforms the state in crime suppression.”

The Minneapolis Police Department has lost nearly 40% of its police force since 2019, and the number of officers leaving the department continues to outpace recruitment 3.5 years after the civil unrest of 2020. As a result, Minneapolis now has among the lowest ratio of officers to citizens in the nation.  It’s a situation Police Chief Brian O’Hara has rightly called “unsustainable.”

In 2021 as the officer exodus ramped up, the city experienced out of control lawlessness and an explosion of violent crime not seen since the “Murderapolis” days of the mid 1990s. The state and the nation also experienced massive increases in crime as a result of the “Minneapolis effect,” which describes the negative consequences for public safety when police become demoralized, and criminals become emboldened. 

After taking a step back in 2020 most law enforcement in the state began returning to more proactive policing by 2022 and 2023. Even Minneapolis, with its huge personnel shortages, stepped up with specific proactive multi agency efforts and had success.  

As a result, crime in Minnesota started to calm down in 2022 and 2023. Minneapolis too experienced a drop in select areas like homicides and carjackings.  But the numbers in these crime categories still far outpaced pre-2020 levels.

Unfortunately, media and politicians anxious to calm the public’s fear over crime, have repeatedly cherry picked small and often brief dips in select crimes and offered them as evidence the ship has righted itself. While any drop in a violent crime is good, it is most often the result of specific proactive efforts to address the violence — and we certainly shouldn’t try to conclude the cause of reduced violence has anything to do with an exodus of police officers. 

When evaluating how Minneapolis is performing in crime suppression since 2020, it’s important to look at its overall performance, and compare it against how the state is performing. This complete comparison, over a three-year period, offers a more realistic look at the direction of crime in Minneapolis.

Using data reported by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), we see that between 2021 and 2023, Minneapolis experienced increases in both Person Crimes (up 9.4%) and Property Crimes (up 14.5%), while the rest of the state experienced decreases in Person Crimes (down 8.3%) and Property Crimes (down 25.3%). As a result of this divergence, Minneapolis has underperformed the rest of the state by 18% in Person Crimes, and 40% in Property Crimes since 2021.  See charts below.

The Star Tribune quotes criminologist Aaron Chalfin, who said,

“Violent crimes rise and fall for many, many reasons.  Some of those reasons are well understood.  Some are not.”  

Continued efforts by some to suggest Minneapolis has weathered the storm on crime, and its future is bright, emphasize the “some are not” portion of the quote all the more. 

Police matter. A police department supported by law abiding citizens is the single most effective tool in suppressing crime. A city which fails to support its police, and which has a police department that is unable to recruit or retain police officers is destined to fail over time. Minneapolitans need to come to this conclusion soon, or recovery of a once great city is all but hopeless.