For years, Minneapolis police have struggled to gain the trust of the Somali community in Cedar-Riverside. The first precinct assigned two Somali beat officers to the neighborhood in the hopes that trust between police and the community can be built.
Abdiwahab Ali , who was transferred from the fifth precinct per his request, and Mohamed Abdullahi , who has been working for three years as a patrol officer in the first precinct, officially started working together Sunday as night beat officers. Both are fairly new to the Minneapolis Police Department, and both wanted to work together in Cedar-Riverside.
“When you have officers who want to work together on a beat, it makes it so much better for the community and for us,” said Kristine Arneson, first precinct inspector who recently transferred from the fifth precinct. “The community will love them and think of them as theirs, and the cops will think of the area as their own, so they’ll take care of it.”
She said beat officers are unique because they don’t respond to 911 calls; they only handle radio calls in their sector.
“Beat work is more boots-on-the-ground work,” Arneson said. “[The officers] are our direct communication between people who live and work in the community.”
Arneson said each day Cedar-Riverside had two different beat cops, so no relationship was built. “I don’t think the community even knew there were beat cops,” she said.
Community organizer Hani Mohamed said the community is excited for the new officers, especially because they are Somali.
“This will help because people will feel comfortable,” Mohamed said. “They’ll have someone they can relate to, and the elders won’t need an interpreter.”
She also said there were complaints in the past about police treatment of youth.
“This will absolve that. … We need to collaborate and help each other for the common good of community.”
Russom Solomon , chairman of the West Bank Community Coalition’s Safety Committee, said there is a huge gap in the ratio of police officers in Cedar-Riverside to the neighborhood’s population.
“This is a highly densely populated area. We’re always advocating for more police,” he said. “This time it’s the type of officers that’s significant, and this is happening even though the police department has faced a budget cut, so this is a big deal for us.”
He added that residents don’t report crime because of a lack of trust.
“We’re shooting ourselves because police presence depends on how many 911 calls are placed,” he said. “We have to report it so statistics don’t say we don’t need more officers.”
Apart from the triple homicide in the Seward neighborhood earlier this month, Solomon said crime in the Somali community decreased by 50 percent in the past year.
This is a significant improvement since 2008, when there was a spike in violence in Cedar-Riverside. That was when the neighborhood began requesting beat officers, Jennifer Blevins, director of the Brian Coyle Center said.
When the police department said it needed more funds to support an increased police presence, Sherman Associates – the owner of Riverside Plaza – donated $20,000, and the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization program offered $5,000. Arneson said those funds are used only when off-duty officers are occasionally needed; the beat officers’ salary comes from the city.
“Even though [the MPD] faced budget cuts, I had committed to Cedar having beat officers because I made a promise,” Arneson said. “Brian Coyle and Cedar are a priority.”
After the funds were secured, it took one year for the beat officers to finally be assigned to their positions. Arneson said the delay was partly because she had to negotiate the transfer of Ali with the fifth precinct commander.
But the main reason for the delay, she said, was a lack of interest among officers to work in Cedar-Riverside because of the perception that the community doesn’t like the police.
She said the relationship between police and Cedar-Riverside residents is on a “good path.”
“There still are tensions, but it’s something we need to work on. It’s a long process,” she said.