Minneapolis Unveils Public Safety Plans That Go Beyond Policing
Bolstering violence prevention programs and expanding unarmed responses were among recommendations in a report announced by Minneapolis city leaders Tuesday described as a multi-year roadmap in their effort to build out the city’s public safety system to go beyond policing.
After conversations in 2020 about Minneapolis residents’ desire for public safety responses that don’t include police officers following George Floyd’s murder, the city contracted Antonio Oftelie, executive director of Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard University and monitor in Seattle’s federal consent decree process to reform their police department. Since 2021, Oftelie and a team of experts have been looking into how to accomplish that goal, through research and interviews with both city officials and Minneapolis community members.
The project – announced during a Tuesday news conference attended by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, City Council President Andrea Jenkins and Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander, among others – was funded by $400,000 in grants from the Pohlad Family Foundation, Minneapolis Foundation, McKnight Foundation and Joyce Foundation.
The report describes a three-pillar plan: preventative services like violence prevention groups, responsive services that provide real-time assistance to people seeking emergency services and restorative services that heal trauma and find root causes of community safety challenges. MPD has been experiencing staffing challenges since 2020, coinciding with periodic spikes in crime and more calls for service and exacerbating criticism that some police duties like traffic and mental health calls don’t need an officer response.
The plan — called the “Safe and Thriving Communities” plan — comes as the city prepares to enter into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice following the end of its two-year investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department that found MPD had practice racially discriminatory policing toward Black and Native American residents, and violated the constitutional rights of protesters and journalists in the days after Floyd’s murder.
Frey said that while the consent decree will focus on policing itself, the plan laid out in the report will take on the rest of the city’s public safety apparatus.
“We have a consent decree which is focused around police accountability — obviously there are facets that go beyond that, but that’s the primary focus,” he said. “This report is focused on safety beyond policing, and incorporating a broad approach that helps to lay out a roadmap for where we can go.”
Oftelie and city leaders pointed to the success of existing programs, like the city’s behavioral response team that responds to 911 calls regarding people experiencing mental crises, violence interrupter groups and shifting more traffic response away from police and toward civilian traffic agents. But a goal of the report, he said, is to determine which programs work, how they could be more effective and which programs the city lacks in an effort to establish those as well.
“A critical first piece of work around this that we’ve been looking at is to say ‘Where are we doing well?’ because we already know we have some good work, and ‘Where can we improve some things?’ where we need to augment and develop some new services,” Oftelie said. “You’ll see that (the plan) is a bit more robust and rigorous of an approach going forward as the roadmap is built out than what is currently happening.”
At a City Council Public Health and Safety Committee meeting on Wednesday where Oftelie presented the report, multiple council members praised the work of Oftelie and his team for crafting the report.
“You reached out to the city of Minneapolis and said ‘How can I help? I want to help. I want to use my resources to make Minneapolis the best city it can be after so many failures around public safety,’ so I really appreciate that,” Ward 4 Council member and Committee Chair LaTrisha Vetaw said to Oftelie, who is a Minneapolis native. “Our neighborhoods are different block by block, so I like that there’s an opportunity in this roadmap that you’ve given us to adjust.”
but expressed some cynicism over whether Frey and other city leaders will follow through on it, citing recommendations from numerous workgroups in the past that they said failed to come to fruition.
Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley pointed to weaknesses of the city outlined in the report, including a lack of vision and an unwillingness to fully embrace taking a public health approach to public safety and violence prevention, and cited complaints that the behavioral crisis response unit is undermanned and lacks resources to respond to as many calls.
“Many residents have organized around the same ideas for decades and have asked the city to invest in a public safety system that does not just have police but actually supports a public health approach and a holistic approach towards our residents, which is actually a real form of public safety,” she said. “For far too long, they’ve been dismissed little by policymakers and the executive leadership here.”
Ward 5 Council member Jeremiah Ellison echoed Wonsley, pointing out that the allocations for programs like the behavioral crisis response program are extremely small when compared to the city’s $1.5 billion total budget, which may foretell the city’s commitment to those programs.
“When you talk anecdotally to folks out in the community, and even police officers, it’s a program that people really believe in. It’s a program that even our officers when they’re confronted with the situation, they’re now learning that how to identify this isn’t really my role,” he said. “That’s a huge asset, and yet we’ve got our team unsure of whether their contracts are going to be renewed.”
With many established programs, like the violence interrupter groups, being relatively new and recommendations within the report calling for even more, Ellison and Ward 3 Council member Michael Rainville also asked how to ensure accountability of how these groups spend city funding, and whether rigorous oversight of a brand new program may hinder its ability to experiment with what works and what doesn’t.
Oftelie said most if not all of the programs will need more staffing and resources to keep track of the work that they’re doing, and data about how the programs do their work should manifest after a year or two.
The report recommends immediate actions including establishing an executive leadership team and community advisory board to decide which policies need to be created or changed to facilitate the plan. It also recommends the city create a yearslong implementation and financial plan, operations and governance plan, committees and work groups focused on each of the three pillars, and an online progress dashboard.
Asked by multiple council members about the readiness of city leaders to implement the plan, Oftelie said they expressed willingness during interviews with his team. He said taking the immediate action steps listed by the report and bringing budget requests before the council can be done in the coming weeks.
Frey on Tuesday acknowledged the city’s budget remains tight due to anticipated high costs related to enacting court-mandated changes from the Department of Justice and state Department of Human Rights. He said city officials will need to look for funding elsewhere and get creative within their own budget to fund funding to bring the plan to life.
“We have received money from other jurisdictions at times, and we have a model that is going to be in place to receive additional money from other organizations, both governmental and not,” he said. “I also believe that these are directions that the city wants to go collectively and that people are willing to spend money on getting a comprehensive public safety system right.”