Weathering the Storm

MPD chief William McManus on his early tenure

CP:You mention Murderapolis. People are always worried about returning to that. You've been in law enforcement a long time. Is it possible, in retrospect, the year of that was sort of a statistical anomaly? One of the things I remember about that summer, is that it didn't seem like a series of murders in one part of town or another, it seemed like it was pretty widespread.

McManus: I'd be curious to look at that and see where they all are. But it doesn't have to be an even spread across the city to get that moniker. It can be in very small areas.

CP:Have you seen spikes like that in murder rates in other cities you've been in? And why does it happen like that?

McManus: In Washington, D.C., we had one year, and I can't recall the year, we had almost 600 murders. And D.C. averaged between 400 and 500 murders a year until a few years ago, and D.C. became known as the murder capitol. There were people I knew, from various parts of the country, who knew those figures. The thing was, 95 percent of those figures were all back in certain sections of the city, where there were notorious open-air drug markets. Those kinds of figures can really hurt a city where it counts. And I certainly don't want that to happen under my watch.

CP:So what do you do about it? Since you've been here, I don't know how many there have been, but there's certainly been a regular string of murders, at least on the north side.

McManus: So far this year, we're actually even with where we were last year.

CP:It seems about normal to me, but I'm scrutinizing it because it is under your watch. What can you do about that right off the bat?

McManus: Well, what we're trying to do now is prevent this from happening by putting as many folks as we can on the street. And there's a strategy in place that's focused on prevention.

CP:Talk about that a little bit. Because there is a school of thought that says simply throwing more police out there doesn't necessarily do anything.

McManus: Right. That's not all we're doing.

CP:Some people would say there's plenty of police presence on the north side already.

McManus: Not if you talk to them. Not if you talk to the cops on the north side because they're already down [in numbers].

But there was an experiment done in, I want to say Kansas City, don't quote me on this, but I believe it was Kansas City. North side, south side, same similar problem, but they just approached it differently. One of the sides threw police at the problem, saturated the area with cops and just tried to lock up as many people as they could. The other side targeted specific individuals, they targeted activities, and they targeted locations. And, in the end, it turned out that to throw cops at the problem was more expensive, and not as effective in terms of preventing crime, as [the other strategy], which was targeted and focused.

CP:One of the things that's talked about in regard to policing strategies is getting officers out of the squads and on the streets. I get the sense that culturally speaking, there's been a reluctance to do that within and without the MPD. Is that a policing strategy that you're interested in?

McManus: Yeah, I'm a proponent of officers walking the beat, officers riding bicycles. It makes it more personal to have cops walking and have cops on bikes.

CP:But it's never really been followed through with this department.

McManus: You know, from talking to people in this department, it's that way in a lot of departments, especially in ones--and there are a lot of them--[where] their numbers are diminishing.

CP:I think we're at a 15-year low [with number of officers] here, too.

McManus: And because of that, cops are on the beats less and less. Because if you put them on beats, then you've got the boards stacking up with runs and calls. So you try to balance the two. You may not be able to put cops out permanently on foot, but you may put them out an hour or two during the watch and have them walk. Traditionally that's been a difficult task to keep up because of the demand for an instant response.

CP:I wonder how much of it is the culture and the nature of Minneapolis. It's sort of spread out; it's cold here at least half the year.

McManus: Sure.

CP:Is it because of that, or is it simply manpower?

McManus: They don't necessarily have to be out in all areas of the city. We certainly want them downtown. You want them in your busier strips. Cops on foot--well, let me put it this way: Public safety is directly related to a city's economic viability. In part, because of that, I believe that officers walking the foot beat is a good thing.

CP:You talk a little bit, with the north side in mind, about better policing strategies and going after specific individuals. Ron Ryan over at the Minnesota Gang Strike Force will say, "Look, we know who these guys are. We know them, we see them, and they know us. But we can't necessarily get them on anything."

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