CODE Red

For the last year, Minneapolis's CODEFOR strategy has been packing the jails. Now state taxpayers are being asked to pay the price.

Minneapolis Police lieutenant Jim Bender taps his hand on the mouse as he waits for his PC to load the MapInfo program. "I'm not that good with computers," he says, pausing to scribble a few numbers that he will later enter on the screen. A map of Minneapolis materializes. With a few mouse clicks, Bender causes 20 or so tiny icons to appear on various street corners.

"These little gold deals"--he stops and moves his head closer to the monitor--"I don't know what they are, shovels or something. We've only got a limited number of icons to use." He lets out a laugh. "Well, anyway, those shovels would be aggravated assaults." Each shovel, Bender explains, indicates an aggravated assault reported within the last week.

Bender centers the map and zooms in on a grid of intersections north of West Broadway in Minneapolis. "Here I'm seeing these two aggravated assaults, so let's add on robberies," he says; as he clicks a button, little red men dot the map. "Do we see anything?" Bender continues. "Well, I can tell you that we have a lot of activity through the Tangletown area. I can also tell you that this is a high-crack area. So could these"--he points to a cluster of shovels and red men--"be crack-related? If I was a betting man, I'd say they probably are. So I'd look into those cases and see if they were any similarities. Then I'd decide whether we need more officers in that area."

Bender heads the Minneapolis Police Department's year-old CODEFOR (Computer Optimized DEployment Focus On Results) unit; machines like his are at the heart of the heavily publicized strategy, which identifies crime hotspots and targets misdemeanor offenders. After a year of computer-guided policing, politicians and MPD officials are touting a 16 percent reduction in "part one" crime (offenses including murder, aggravated assault, robbery, and car theft), and Bender says cities in Minnesota and neighboring states are clamoring for advice on starting their own networks.

In March the MPD, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, and the city attorney's office kicked off a series of community meetings designed to bolster support for the new strategy. "We have some wonderful news for you tonight," Sayles Belton announced at the first meeting, held March 23 at the Woman's Club of Minneapolis. "CODEFOR is definitely moving the city in the right direction."

What Sayles Belton did not mention was that CODEFOR may have moved several city and county agencies in the direction of budget shortfalls. In the first year of the program, narcotics arrests in the city jumped almost 50 percent while arrests for lesser offenses such as trespassing, gambling, fireworks violations, indecent conduct, and consuming alcohol in public increased by 40 percent. Those numbers have meant growing workloads for agencies throughout the law-enforcement system--including the adult and juvenile jails, prosecutors' and public defenders' offices, and even child-protection authorities, which, according to Hennepin County documents, have seen a 15 percent rise in the cost of sheltering kids whose parents are incarcerated.

Now those agencies have joined together in an unprecedented effort to seek additional money from the state. According to a memo drafted by acting county administrator Sandra Vargas in January, the request seeks to "address the impact of the city's CODEFOR law-enforcement strategy and [originally] called for an appropriation of approximately $11 million." That figure has since been revised to $5.3 million; a bill to that effect faces committee votes in the state House and Senate in the next two weeks.

"You have to look at it like a big balloon," explains the bill's author, Rep. Richard Stanek (R-Maple Grove), who is also a commander in the MPD. "The more people that get arrested, the more people you need in the county attorney's office, and then I need more judges to sit in the courtroom...If I'm going to put pressure on one part of the balloon, it's going to get bigger somewhere else."

 

Among the institutions getting bigger is the Hennepin County jail, whose inmate population jumped by almost one-third last year. Inspector of Support Services Richard Esensten says he can't be sure that new policing strategies caused the increase: "Offenders don't come with CODEFOR stamped on them," he notes. "All I can tell you is that our population has gone up." At one point last year, the inmate count reached 801 in a facility with only 509 beds, and Minneapolis police officers publicly complained about having to wait for as long as an hour before booking suspects. "It was like going to the fancy nightclub where you stand in line outside," Esensten recalls. "Two people out, two people in."

Esensten waits as a guard unlocks a thick steel door on the fourth floor of Minneapolis's City Hall. On the other side is a hallway that leads to a row of cell blocks. As Esensten approaches, inmates crowd the cell windows; one bends down and puts his mouth close to the slot used for meal trays. "Are you the sheriff?" "No, I'm not," Esensten replies and moves on to another cell. Inmates--some standing, some lying down--stare back at him as he counts the beds.

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