Toronto takes lessons from Minneapolis police's work in Cedar-Riverside

Riverside Plaza, the landmark West Bank apartment complex.
Riverside Plaza, the landmark West Bank apartment complex.
Elizabeth Gales via Minnesota Local History | Flickr Creative Commons

In Toronto, six men of Somali descent have been shot and killed since June. As the city searches for solutions, CBC News (Canada's version of the BBC) is suggesting that it might be able to find answers across the border, in the Minneapolis police's success reducing crime in Cedar-Riverside.

See also:
- Feature: Minneapolis Somali community facing dark web of murders: They came to escape civil war, so why are they killing each other in the streets?
- Minneapolis Somalis testifying before Congress
- Feature: Better Days: They went through hell in Mogadishu. But for 17-year-old Mohamed Abdullahi and other Somali immigrants, in Minneapolis it's still an uphill climb.

The West Bank picked up a bad reputation in the first half of the 2000s, with robberies and thefts in the neighborhood peaking around 2005, according to city data. But since then, crime has plummeted -- the number of serious reported crimes dropped nearly 40 percent between 2010 and 2011 alone.

When CBC News asked Minneapolis police to explain the change, they gave a share of the credit to two Somali-American cops who now patrol the area: Mohamed Abdullahi, who was deployed in mid-2006, and Abdiwahab Ali, who joined him in 2008.

The network followed "Mo and Ali" during patrols in September, and reported that the duo "displayed an intimate knowledge of the neighborhood." According to CBC, the two cops could point out new cars on the street or interrupt a basketball game to talk to a suspected gang member, and remind him, in Somali, to have a safe day.

Another example: CBC journalists observed one man telling the officers, again in Somali, that though he hadn't called 911, he would be willing to give them information about a guy who fired shots nearby two nights earlier.

So do Abdullahi and Ali make a difference in the neighborhood because they speak the language and understand the culture, or just because they're around more than other cops were?

Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek tells CBC News that it's more the latter.  "What we've told [people who think we don't understand the Somali population] is that it doesn't matter what culture it is," Stanek says. "Once you have that robust community outreach and you build those trusted partnerships and relationships, we fall back on our community-oriented policing philosophy and strategy."

Sometimes, words like Stanek's -- "robust outreach" or "policing philosophy" -- can ring empty. But in the case of Cedar-Riverside, as CBC News realized, the numbers show that something's going right.

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