BY CAM GORDON
Hopes are high for a new report that centers on strengthening safety beyond policing efforts with attention to prevention and restorative as well as alternative responses to crime and violence.
Released on July 13 following a city press conference called by Mayor Jacob Frey, the “Minneapolis Safe and Thriving Communities Report” was written by Antonio Oftelie and his team at Leadership for a Networked World (LNW).
Oftelie is a Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center within the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the executive director of LNW. He grew up on the Southside, considers himself a lifelong resident of Minneapolis and said the 3rd Precinct was “his precinct” growing up. He previously worked for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development. In 2020 Oftelie was appointed to help monitor a police-related consent decree between Seattle and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The report was not funded by the city but by the Joyce, McKnight, Minneapolis and Pohlad Foundations, who paid LNW directly.
“I believe this will be something that will enable Minneapolis, if it is enacted, to lead the nation,” said Oftelie, “and answer the community demand that came in 2020.”
The 143-page, carefully designed and well-illustrated report is rich with detailed recommendations and specific strategies to improve public safety. It “focuses on how Minneapolis can design and implement a new model of services that enable community safety and wellbeing,” and is divided into the three areas of prevention, response and restoration to create what it terms “an ecosystem of services for safe and thriving communities.”
In terms of the response to crime, the report, for example, calls for a transformation of 911 and the use of criteria-based dispatching. It outlines four types of responses to calls that might have traditionally just been referred to police. First is an “alternative response only” where dispatchers send a trained team of community responders. Second is a “co-response” led by community responders where both a community responder and an officer are dispatched, but if the community responder determines that there is a low potential for violence, the officers leave. Third is an officer-led co-response with the officer first conducting a safety check. Last is an officer-only response. Oftelie said that virtual responses could also be better utilized for some things in the future.
While police are mentioned in the report, they are not the focus, and police reform is not addressed.
The report aims to be “a pathway to comprehensive transformation” and “when combined with foundational reforms in law and policy, will restore the social contract, trust, and legitimacy of public safety between the City of Minneapolis and its communities.”
At the press conference and at the committee, it was clear that policymakers see potential in the plan. But it is unclear what impact the report will have, if any, in the long run. At the committee meeting, there were no city staff who introduced or spoke about the report and the committee did not refer it to staff for further review, forward it to the council, or vote to approve it. Instead, the clerk was directed by the chair to “receive and file the report.”
While that is a common thing for a committee to do with such a report, it also sets the stage for it to join the many other reports filed away or gathering dust on shelves in City Hall.
Even if it is read and implemented, this plan also runs the risk of getting stalled, lost or derailed in layers of bureaucratic governance.
Written as a 10-year plan, the first year is focused on the creation of an executive leadership team made up of city staff (but not the mayor or council members) and a community advisory board who would create a “law and policy agenda for executive and legislative policy changes” and write several additional plans. These would include a “multi-year implementation and financial plan,” a governance and operations plan with “a matrix and plan for the cross-agency and cross-sector collaboration,” as well as a community communication and engagement plans.
If the plan, or even particular ideas or strategies within it, is to be implemented, they will need a champion or champions among city policy makers.
So far, there appear to be policymakers who support the plan. “This is a long-term plan we want to get going on immediately,” said Frey. “There is no other city in the country that is moving towards something as significant and comprehensive as the vision that we’ve got in Minneapolis.”
“I look forward to using the results of this study as a guiding principle,” said Ward 13 Council Member Linea Palmisano, who joined Frey at the press conference.
“This is probably one of the most anticipated reports in my committee,” said Ward 5 Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw, who chairs the public health and safety committee. “Council members are committed to this work, we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get started.”
“I really hope that the thoroughness of this will make these ideas mainstream” said Ward 1 Council Member Elliot Payne. “Some of us have been trying to implement these ideas for years and we’ve been met with undermining and sabotage.”
The outgoing commissioner of community safety, Cedric Alexander, said he was pleased to take the plan as “another guide his department can use to transform public safety.”
In the near term it calls for improvements to the current prevention, response, and restoration services. In the mid-term it will work to expand services and leverage partnerships and funding with the county and state. The final stage will work to expand services toward addressing root causes, such as poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression and trauma. In this phase, additional services will not only be focused on responding to needs but also address underlying conditions that can lead to a lack of safety and well-being.
Funding for the plan is in question. No budget was included in the report, which does identify additional staff that will be needed. Frey said it could cost millions of dollars but has not committed to a specific amount in next year’s budget.
With Alexander’s retirement this fall as commissioner of community safety, the selection of the next head of that office could have a significant impact on the future of the report. Oftelie would be an interesting choice.
Whatever happens, seeing the city reaching towards safety beyond policing strategies is a welcome sign to many.
“Residents have organized around these same ideas for decades,” said Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley, “and have asked the city to invest in a public safety system that doesn’t just involve police, but actually supports a public health and holistic approach.”
This report appears to aim for that and to “achieve an entirely new level of value, legitimacy, and trust in how Minneapolis fosters and sustains safe and thriving communities.” Only time will tell if the city, and all of us, have the resources and sustained effort to use this report to get there.