The war on public safety: District Attorneys

‘The war on cops,’ which American Experiment has been talking about since 2016, is only one part of a much broader war on the safety of Minnesotans, which is being waged by people who are driven by an ideological belief that crime should not be fought. One element of this is District Attorneys, who are more interested in making laws than enforcing them.

On Sept. 8, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced a new “charging policy regarding non-public-safety traffic stops,” under which his office will not charge crimes stemming from a traffic stop of a vehicle for “non-public-safety reasons.” The policy means the Ramsey County Attorney’s office will no longer prosecute felony cases where the driver was initially pulled over for a minor traffic violation.

When Choi announced this measure, he couched it in the evergreen language of reducing racial disparities. In an approving op-ed, the Star Tribune wrote:

“As leaders in the justice system, we must step forward and fundamentally change a long-standing systemic injustice,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in announcing the change. “Recognizing the role we play as prosecutors in perpetuating racial inequities that often result from these types of stops is an important first step in charting a new, less harmful course.”

But this measure will likely have other effects, too. As I wrote on Wednesday, the quantity of policing has fallen sharply in Minneapolis since the death of George Floyd in May last year. Part of this is a steep decline in traffic stops, such as John Choi wants to see in Ramsey County. Indeed, an investigation by Reuters found that: “Almost immediately after Floyd’s death…police officers all but stopped making traffic stops.” Indeed, “The number of traffic stops [Minneapolis police] conducted was down 85% [since Floyd’s death].”

Whatever this has done for racial equity in Minneapolis, it has been bad news for public safety:

“The evidence that proactive policing works is pretty solid,” said Justin Nix, a University of Nebraska Omaha criminologist. More frequent stops make it riskier for people to carry guns illegally. And residents might be less willing to call for help if they think officers won’t respond.

“If police pull back in the aggregate and they’re also pulling back in areas where crime is concentrated, that can be bad news,” Nix said.

Indeed, Reuters found that since May 2020, “The number of people charged with breaking gun laws dropped by more than half, even as shootings multiplied.” And, as I wrote on Tuesday, violent crime up 19 percent in Minneapolis this year. There have been 69 homicides in the city so far this year, but, as the Star Tribune wrote recently:

The murder count represents only a small fraction of gun crimes. Data show a record number of gunshot wounds reported since last year. In the first six months of 2021, Minneapolis surpassed shots fired citywide in all of 2019, according to ShotSpotter activations, shooting reports and other data tracked by local law enforcement agencies. This year is on track to surpass 2020s record-high 9,600 gunfire reports. The past 20 months now account for almost a quarter of the 70,000 gunshot incidents reported in Minneapolis since 2008.

And it is disproportionately the city’s black residents who have suffered from this explosion of violent crime. A PBS report last month found that eight out of ten people shot in Minneapolis in 2021 have been black. Choi’s policy might well be couched in the terms of racial equity, but, if Ramsey County and other jurisdictions follow Minneapolis down the path of reduced policing, there will be nothing equitable about who pays the price.