Golden Valley’s grace period

An op-ed piece about the Golden Valley Police Department recently appeared in the New York Times and was reprinted in the Star Tribune. My response to both newspapers follows.

In his recent op-ed, “Half the police force quit.  Crime dropped,” investigative journalist Radley Balko made the dubious assertion that fewer police officers in the city of Golden Valley, Minnesota, has led to more safety and security for residents.  In making this assertion Balko suggested the Golden Valley Police Department’s collapse is a real-time study of the “potential benefits of a less coercive, less confrontational alternative to the police.” Hardly.

Golden Valley, a first ring suburb of Minneapolis, has in fact been a relatively peaceful and safe community – historically.  But recent “police reform” efforts by the city have decimated its police department, leaving the city vulnerable with just 5 functional patrol officers, a handful of supervisors, and a new police chief who has been fired from his previous two assignments as a chief.  This is a precarious situation – one that serves Golden Valley’s citizens poorly. (Read more about the Golden Valley Police Department’s staffing struggles here. As recently as 2020 the department was fully staffed at 31 officers).

If as Balko suggests, less police results in less crime, it would stand to reason that Golden Valley leaders would be happy with the police department staffing as it is.  Of course, that isn’t the case.  Instead, the city has put together an aggressive plan to recruit and retain new officers, that includes among other incentives, a $10,000 hiring bonus. They’ve done this because these leaders know they are on borrowed time, and the longer it takes to rebuild the police ranks the more vulnerable the city is to the breakdown in order that cities throughout the twin cities metro area have been experiencing.

To stay afloat as they attempt to rebuild, the city has contracted with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office to patrol the city during the daytime, while the remaining city police officers cover calls at night.  Some of the city’s follow up investigation has been farmed out to a private security firm, some of its uniformed responses are tasked to community service officers, and its medical calls are now deferred to its fire department.

The fact that crime statistics have reportedly remained low during this crisis is not evidence that the city needs fewer police officers.  It’s likely more reflective of a community that has become weary of trying to report crime to an obviously dysfunctional police department, and a dysfunctional police department that is struggling to accurately process the crime reports it does receive. 

There are anecdotal examples of crime emerging, suggesting the “idyllic” city of Golden Valley is struggling.  Look no further than a recent incident in which an 80-year-old woman was watering her lawn on a weekday.  In broad daylight a car with 4-5 young males pulled up as the woman walked into her garage.  They prevented the door from closing, then began assaulting the woman and demanding keys to her car.  The woman ended up with a broken arm, and a damaged sense of security that will haunt her in her own home for the rest of her life. 

Within the week other reports of carloads of young males prowling neighborhoods and stealing cars were made.  This type of brazen daytime crime doesn’t happen in cities with well-staffed, visible, and proactive police departments.  Golden Valley represents none of that in 2023, and it’s beginning to show.

The situation in Golden Valley Minnesota is not one that police reform supporters should look to emulate.  The situation in most cities would not allow for a “grace period” the way the situation in Golden Valley has.  The suggestion by Balko, that because Golden Valley has survived for the time being, other cities “might consider just letting them (officers) leave,” is misguided at best, and does not represent serious public safety policy.