Cities all across America last year faced a surge in violence, fueled in part by the economic despair and alienation brought on by the pandemic, criminologists said. Minneapolis was no exception: it saw a 25 percent increase in homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults.
But zero in on the four neighborhoods surrounding George Floyd Square, the name given to the corner where Mr. Floyd died, and the story is far bleaker and deadlier. In those areas — Powderhorn Park, Central, Bryant and Bancroft — violent crime shot up 66 percent last year, according to Police Department statistics. And this year, so far, little has changed.
The area has become something of an autonomous zone, with barriers and signs calling it “the free state of George Floyd.” The police have stayed away for almost a year to avoid inflaming tensions.
Residents and city leaders have tussled over the role that the Police Department’s depleted ranks have played in the violence plaguing the entire city. Around 200 officers have left the force, some temporarily, over the past year, with many taking leave for post-traumatic stress disorder. The City Charter allows for 888 officers, but there are currently 648 on active duty, city officials said.
Supporters of defunding the police have applauded steps to redirect $8 million from the Police Department’s budget, which now sits at about $170 million. Some of those funds have gone to the Office of Violence Prevention, which has seen its budget grow more than fourfold over the past year to about $7 million.
With that money, the office is expanding programs that offer social services, said Sasha Cotton, the director. The office is also developing a program modeled after Cure Violence, a national violence-intervention initiative. The city’s version will consist of six teams of about 15 people, some former gang members, working in communities to settle any simmering disputes that may lead to violence.