Code for Safe Streets

Minneapolis killed its last zero-tolerance policing program when it sparked too many citizen complaints for cops' comfort. This time around they've simply eliminated the complaint process.

"We aren't changing the rules. Nobody's going to be treated any different or any worse," he adds. "The streets are safer now. I don't get the complaint calls. The calls I do get are the people saying that things are getting better and we're only in our seventh week now."

Even Olson concedes that CODEFOR isn't much different than Safe Streets but says the zero-tolerance program was integrated into CODEFOR. This time he says a special monitoring group has been created to keep an eye out for citizen complaints of overzealous policing. His critics, however, question whether the number of complaints logged by the MPD and the Civilian Police Review Authority will be a realistic gauge. Long criticized by civil libertarians as toothless, Civilian Review recently survived a potentially emasculating assault by the City Council. Some Council members had argued that it should be disbanded because the number of cases it handles has dropped. Others insisted that the agency hears fewer complaints because citizens see it as ineffective.

CPRA Executive Director Pat Hughes says it's too early to tell whether complaints to her office have gone up. More people might complain because they're being arrested for petty crimes, she says, but if police are doing their jobs right Civilian Review will have no reason to act on those complaints. "We're going to look at the cases as we've always done," says Hughes. "There are going to be people upset with that. You've got to look at the police department because they want to fight crime and the citizens want to end crime so there will be some people who will have to put up with this minor discomfort."

What neither Olson nor Hughes acknowledges is that an informational handout given to MPD cops about CODEFOR clearly states that the department's complaint process is being altered so that complaints specifically related to CODEFOR won't end up in officers' files. Because of the change in policy, individuals stopped or arrested for petty crimes such as jaywalking or a busted headlight while walking or driving in areas highlighted by the computer program won't be able to accuse the police department of targeting them. A category has been created on the department's internal "PPI" complaint forms allowing a citizen allegation to be tabled as having "no basis for complaint."

Citizen complaints were one of the reasons Operation Safe Streets was halted last year. Police rank and file say that without the department's backing they are reluctant to employ tactics that will spark complaints, according to Minneapolis Police Federation head Al Berryman.

Berryman, who admits to being a staunch critic of the chief, says that CODEFOR is nothing more than Safe Streets wrapped in PR candy. "They told [officers] to go down and book every minority you see and that's all it was," Berryman says of Safe Streets. "It was a bullshit program. But they keep on selling it and people keep on buying it.... Minorities ought to be fucking pissed." He adds that CODEFOR will only move criminals from neighborhood to neighborhood.

"This is an initiative of the city. This isn't an initiative of the cops. We got a four-legged stool and we only have three legs on the ground right now." Berryman says it would be more useful to speed up the booking process to allow cops to get back out on the street to actually police the areas with high crime. "Unless you have the resources--the bed space for people who are repeat offenders--then we can't close. We need a closer."

And CODEFOR might not cause crime statistics to drop, says Minneapolis lawyer and state House of Representatives candidate Keith Ellison Muhummad. "It's going to artificially drive up crime statistics in the inner city," predicts Ellison. "You are deploying more people who have the power to arrest in the inner city. So it makes sense that if you have one [cop] in Edina in the same geographic area then you're clearly going to have more arrests in the place [where] you have more cops. So it makes it appear that Minneapolis is more crime-ridden than perhaps it actually is.

"It's no secret that the police and communities of color have had a long history of antagonism," adds Ellison. "Now you just ensure that that antagonism continues with programs like CODEFOR. My point is that when you put a program together like CODEFOR you basically are pursuing a militaristic strategy that predictably is going to cause incidents where you're going to have police violence and police abuse that is going to spill over and cause more strife between police and citizens."

Sandra Battle may not understand the intricacies of the policy debate surrounding CODEFOR. But she says she's profoundly aware of the way the program works on a neighborhood level.

"I'm scared of the police," says Battle. "I don't even look at them. I look at them but I don't because I feel like if I do they will come and ask me a bunch of questions. They seem like they're using their authority a lot more now. They really don't know you [except] by the computer so they're stopping and questioning everybody. I tell people to see 'em but don't look at 'em."

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