Top Minneapolis cop in the 4th precinct brings hands-on approach to jobby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Next to Minneapolis police chief, running the 4th precinct may be the toughest job on the police force. The precinct, located in north Minneapolis, was the site of nearly half the city's 57 homicides in 2006. The 4th also led all other precincts in other serious crimes like burglary, assault and rape. The man appointed to take on that task is Inspector Lee Edwards. Edwards, who most recently led the homicide unit, began his new job last December.
Minneapolis, Minn. — It's a cold Friday morning, and before Inspector Lee Edwards heads out he wants his gloves. But he can't find them. He looks in the back seat of his unmarked squad car and then goes back inside the station to see if he left in the office. As he gets back in the car, he makes a discovery.
"It was under the paper. I tell you bro, it's rough getting old."
Edwards is 49, not exactly over the hill. He sports a prosperous paunch around his midsection that many men his age carry. And Edward's short-cropped Afro is largely free of gray hairs.
The first hot spot of the tour is, ironically, right next door to the station. Drug dealers have set up shop in the parking lot of the mall which sits right to the west of the precinct. Edwards says he started pressuring the business owners to cooperate with him to stop it.
"I wasn't going to allow an open-air drug market to stay right next to the precinct," says Edwards. "So if that meant I would have to pull an officer off the street, so he or she wouldn't respond to 911 calls and they were just sitting at Snow Foods, then I was going to do that. I wasn't going to have any dope dealers next to my house. I consider the precinct my house."
The situation illustrates Edwards' philosophy of crime-fighting. Whether it's through meeting with the heads of neighborhood organizations, or getting in a squad to do the "grunt work" of policing -- he likes to get personally involved.
Edwards car radio squawks out a call.
"2024 - we're at that homicide car on West Broadway... 2054 Broadway, you care to roll by?"
The call is about a car, perhaps linked to one of the six homicides committed in the precinct so far in 2007. The car is pulled over just around the corner. Edwards takes a quick right onto West Broadway and guns the engine.
Edwards steers the unmarked car into the oncoming lane where two squads, lights flashing, are behind the suspect car. The officers have handcuffed an older African-American man and are leading him to the back seat of one of the police cars.
Edwards appears to know the man.
"Wait a second," Edwards says, as he gets out o his car and approaches the scene.
After a few minutes of talking with the officers and the driver of the car, the man is released. There are a few laughs, as the man who was pulled over appears to accept the apologies of the officers.
"Honest mistake," Edwards says.
Edwards says he recognized the man who was pulled over. The man is a neighborhood activist involved with an anti-crime group made up of other African American men.
Edwards says the car the officers were looking for was the same make as the one driven by the man they pulled over. And the license plate contained the same three numbers. But the letters in the plates were off by one letter.
"Right after they put him in the back seat, Troy, the younger officer -- you had Troy and Bruce -- and Troy, he says, 'Oh, man.' I overheard him say 'Bruce, we're looking for Tom-Yellow-Victor and this is Tom-Yellow-Whiskey and he says, 'What?' and he looks on the computer and says, 'Oh, ____.'"
Edwards says the two cops, who are both white, treated the man respectfully -- a practice he says he preaches to all the 126 sworn officers who work for him.
The conversation inevitably turns to the subject of racial profiling, and the challenge of telling the difference between the bad guys and the good guys -- when often they wear the same uniform.
The common profile is a young black man wearing baggy clothing. How many of these young men are just posers, and how many are actual players?
"You just described my son, and he's in the police academy right now," Edwards says. "I don't go by those profiles. I go by the behavior, and I stress that to the officers. And they understand that."
Edwards is also an advocate for a diverse police force. He says it's important for police officers to resemble the people they serve.
"If you don't have a department that reflects the community, then you're having some major issues," says Edwards. "Because there are just some things I, as a black person will just know from experience, that a white American officer probably won't know. Not that he can't learn. Not that he can't empathize. But he won't know it, because he didn't grow up with it."
Edwards grew up in Detroit. He didn't have dreams of becoming a police officer. Edwards earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry, and a Masters Degree in Public Administration.
He became a cop back in 1989 because he was looking for a job in the crime lab and heard police field work was a good way to get in the field. Edwards says he was bitten by the cop bug and has stayed on the force for nearly 18 years.
- All Things Considered, 02/13/2007, 6:47 p.m.