The push to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department may have hit a major roadblock, but according to the Star-Tribune the department is still down about 100 officers since early June, when rioting and looting and widespread violence rocked the city in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in police custody. As the number of officers on the street has declined, shootings and robberies are up across the city, with the police department’s 3rd Precinct reporting 100 robberies in the month of July.

Criminals feel emboldened at the moment, which may be one reason why a pair of armed robbers decided to hold up the USA Smoke Shop in Minneapolis over the weekend. Store owner Fouad Elharfaoui says the two men came into his store just before closing time Saturday evening looking for some quick cash and cigarettes, but were surprised when a store employee fought back.

“Two guys walked in with a gun and tried to rob [my employee], but he has a concealed weapon and he pulled it out and tried to defend himself,” Elharfaoui said. “The guys took off, he chased them.”

According to Elharfaoui, his employee fired at the robbers’ car as they drove away, and hit the man in the passenger seat. Minutes later, a barely-conscious man stumbled into the Super USA convenience store at 38th Street and Minnehaha Avenue, a little more than a mile from USA Smoke Shop. Mohamed Kassab was working at Super USA that evening.

“We called the police for him to get help, you know. He’s bleeding. It’s very crazy, scary, you know?” Kassab said.

According to police, the injured man was taken to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries, and while he has not yet been arrested or charged in connection with the smoke shop robbery, authorities say he does match the description of one of the two suspects.

Elharfaoui is standing by his employee, adding that he wasn’t worried about the loss of property as much as he was concerned about the safety of his friend and employee. The business owner says his store has already been hit by looters once this summer, and as you can imagine, he’s not a fan of the idea of abolishing the city’s police force. Of course, as the Star-Tribune recently reported, the police department is facing major challenges beyond the existential threat it faces from the City Council.

The decreased staffing levels among the MPD’s five precincts is a dilemma for the department, as it grapples with COVID-related budget cuts and sinking officer morale. For instance, a recent Monday night found just six officers patrolling the 14.5 square miles of the Third Precinct, according to MPD officials.

The department must constantly balance shortages, as officers call in sick or take vacation time. They do so by holding over earlier shifts, using response cars from other precincts at particularly busy times, and offering so-called “green days” — putting out a citywide bid for officers to work overtime to backfill positions.

Meanwhile, officers from disbanded units like the Police Athletic League, procedural justice and community engagement have been reassigned, with some sent back to the streets, as have former school resource officers.

Officials would not disclose which units the departures are coming from, but MPD insiders say the Second Precinct was particularly hard hit. Investigation units haven’t been spared either, with the juvenile crimes unit losing several detectives in the exodus.

The deployment picture has worsened as the department tries to dig itself out of the budgetary hole it’s been in since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. While a recent class of recruits hit the streets last month, another class that was scheduled to start training in August has been canceled. And with a citywide hiring freeze in effect until at least the end of the year, there are no replacements in sight.

As long as the MPD is struggling, criminals are going to believe they stand a good chance at getting away with their crimes. Thankfully the Second Amendment is alive and well in the Twin Cities, and those looking for an easy score should keep in mind that the police aren’t the only ones who are able to stop a crime from being committed. If the city can’t get a handle on its crime rate, expect more armed citizen stories like this in the days and weeks ahead.

 

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