The outlook for public order in the Twin Cities is grim


Back in 2019, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was pushing for an increase in the number of police officers in Minneapolis. He told Fox 9:

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen our population increase by almost 50,000 people and we’ve seen our police officer count go up by pretty much none,” he said. “It’s remained stagnant.” 

“That’s not a sustainable metric,” Frey added. 

Last month, the Police Department noted that more than 6,000 priority one calls (mostly violent crime) went unanswered in 2018. The department said that is further proof the city is understaffed. 

“We need to make sure that public safety is in every single neighborhood in our city and you can’t get that without additional officers,” Frey said. 

Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic and government responses to it wreaking economic havoc, the city is facing $98 million budget shortfall and it seems unlikely that the city is going to get new officers anytime soon. This situation will only be made worse by the wave of retirements hitting the force.

Saint Paul

Saint Paul is also facing budget problems. Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposes to reduce the police budget by $801,000. But, the Pioneer Press reports:

…[St. Paul Police Chief Todd] Axtell says it amounts to a $3.8 million cut, based on what it would have cost to run the department at the same level as this year. That’s mostly due to contractually-obligated cost-of-living salary increases for employees, which is also the case in other St. Paul departments.

St. Paul police’s authorized strength is 630 officers this year. The proposed budget would officially reduce authorized strength by 10 officers and the department would need to keep open the equivalent of at least 31 officer positions.

There are no plans to lay off officers, but vacant positions won’t be filled.

“We will be staffed to a level of pre-2007 — this … was a time when our population was 279,470,” Axtell said, compared to the population estimate last year of 308,096. “A time when the city had no light rail, no soccer stadium, crime was much different as we had 16 homicides that year.”

Less cops, more crime

These developments are bad news for the Twin Cities. Both are already seeing rising levels of violent crime. As I wrote recently, research shows that more cops mean less crime. As police numbers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul fall, not only relative to the population but in absolute terms, what will less cops mean?

St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen asked Axtell: “Is there a unit, is there something that can be iced for a year or two?… We are having these same challenging conversations with every department.” No doubt she is. But no other department is tasked with the absolute core function of government: the maintenance of law and order.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.