At a press conference at City Hall, Frey, who was reelected in November, pushed back against school closures seen in other major cities, including Chicago, as COVID-19 cases rose after winter break.
“We’ve gotta keep the schools open. This is very clear to me,” Frey said. “Yes, we need to make sure we’re abiding by the necessary safety precautions. Yes, we need to make sure anyone from parents to teachers to students are protected in full from the dangers associated with a global pandemic, and we need to make sure the students are in the schools and that they’re able to learn.”
“When we don’t have that, boredom sets in. And boredom is no excuse for carjacking,” the mayor added. “But it’s on all of us to make sure that these recreational, educational activities continue.”
His remarks on school closures come at a time when schools in major U.S. cities across the country are battling a surge in cases of COVID-19 following winter break ushered in by the highly contagious omicron variant. In Chicago for example, their teachers’ union voted to cancel classes amid the surge, but critics pointed to the impacts on mental health to keep kids out of the classroom for extended periods.
Jacob Frey, mayor of Minneapolis, speaks during a news conference at City Hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Thursday, June 3, 2021. (Nicholas Pfosi/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
“There’s 100 different causal factors associated with the increase in crime that we’ve seen over the last year and a half,” Frey said. “It’s the fact we’ve had distanced learning and recreational activities have been slim to at times none. We need to make sure that these recreational activities, these opportunities for kids to safely play and have something to do, are dramatically increased and that they come back.”
The school debate reached Florida, as Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to keep schools open, noting how closures in other parts of the country impact working class areas and deny parents’ right to an education for their kids. He noted how the omicron variant also brings milder cases. Other figureheads have stressed how schools also serve as a place for students from low-income households to get meals twice a day.
Minneapolis, like other U.S. cities, has also seen surging violent crime since the death of George Floyd waved in widespread demonstrations in the name of racial justice. Voters in November rejected a ballot measure to replace the police department with a public safety agency, but recruitment is still lacking.
Frey also addressed the overwhelming attrition seen at the Minneapolis Police Department down hundreds of officers since riots swept the city. He appealed to community members to “be the change” by applying to vacant officer positions to address the city’s “grave problem” of violent crime.
“The violent and criminal conduct we have seen in Minneapolis and surrounding cities throughout the last several months is garbage,” Frey said Wednesday. “I could stand up here and tell you, and many will, that this is a national trend. That every single major city in the entire country is seeing an uptick in violent crime – in shootings, carjackings, home invasions. And that’s true. But who cares? You live in this city. I live in this city. We are responsible for doing everything to stop this violent criminal conduct and holding perpetrators accountable and working on every single possible upstream solution that we can.”
Deputy Chief Amelia Huffman, who will become interim chief once Medaria Arradondo retires, said more than 650 people were shot across the city by the end of 2021. There were also more than 2,000 robberies reported to police by year’s end, including more than 650 carjacking incidents.
She pointed to one high profile incident on Dec. 29 when a 20-year-old woman working as a cashier while on her school’s winter break was shot during a robbery at Bryn Mawr Market. Several arrests have been made in that case. The deputy chief also highlighted police investigative work in which officers recently seized three 9mm handguns from a 17-year-old and two 15-year-old boys sitting in a car on 44th Ave. North Monday. She stressed that more needs to be done to divert juveniles from “harmful patterns.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey speaks during a news conference in 2020. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)
New initiatives to address the rising crime include boosting enforcement in areas where stolen cars are being dumped after carjackings. Frey also reinstated the community service officer program that was slashed by City Council over a year and a half ago. He said there are five different recruiting classes coming in this year, but the number of officers in each class is only around 25, lower than average.
Huffman said like in the robbery at the market, officers have been working collect evidence and identify and apprehend suspects and the Hennepin County District Attorney’s Office has assigned extra prosecutors, but the community too plays a crucial role as businesses and private residents provide security camera footage and other information in investigations.
“Public safety cannot be a police-only issue,” Frey said.
Huffman added that the department has seen 50% fewer applicants than in past processes.
“There is a national shortage of applications of people to become police officers,” Frey said. “We need to be doing everything possible right now to boost out recruitment efforts to make sure the best, brightest, most talented and community-oriented people are signing up to become a police officer in Minneapolis. If you care deeply about your community, if you want to be the change in the Minneapolis Police Department, we’re asking you to sign up and apply.”
With the emphasis on recruiting more officers to the police department, Frey also stressed that the conversation around police reform should not being falling to the wayside.
“One of the aspects that I believe mayors, governors, elected officials, police chiefs around this country are going to have to understand is police officers are going to have to get paid more and fired more,” he said. “They need to get paid more so that we are incentivizing the best, most talented, community-oriented officers to sign up to what yes, is a very, very hard job. And they need to make sure that when those officers do not live up to the values we have instilled and that we are insisting on, they are fired. And we are able to hold them accountable. Both of those things need to take place.”