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Working together to ensure public safety in 21st-century Minneapolis

In our mission to reduce violence against African-American men and boys in particular, we are clear that we need a new blueprint for public safety.

Every day, mayors across the country, including here in Minneapolis, are guided by a vision of a city that runs well for everyone. A core part of that work is making sure every resident is safe in every neighborhood. That includes residents like the young people I had the honor of meeting at Urban Ventures and YouthLink when I visited Minneapolis. Both of these organizations meet youth where they are and help them find a brighter future.

Anthony Smith

At Cities United, we work with mayors in a wide range of cities to make real our collective vision of safe, healthy and hopeful communities for all. In our mission to reduce violence against African-American men and boys in particular, we are clear that we need a new blueprint for public safety — one that brings all hands on deck to light a path to real opportunity for every community. 

It will take all of us — from city leaders to young people and community members to the business and philanthropy sectors — to tackle violence. Minneapolis is doing just that in its efforts to implement new approaches to public safety in the 21st century. Here are three ways that Minneapolis is bringing stakeholders together, engaging the communities most impacted in developing solutions and innovating new strategies. 

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Collaborative, community-driven public dafety: To increase public safety, it is important to empower residents and business owners, along with the community-based organizations that serve them, to decide for themselves what strategies work best. A fundamental tenet of 21st-century policing is strengthening the community’s capacity to carry out collaborative crime prevention. 

In her proposed budget for 2017, Mayor Betsy Hodges is proposing collaborative and community-driven public-safety strategies in two locations in Minneapolis with high levels of youth violence: on West Broadway between Lyndale and Girard on the north side, and the Little Earth United Tribes community and the surrounding neighborhood on the south side. Minneapolis is making needed resources and technical assistance available while making sure the strategies are shaped by the people who live and work in these neighborhoods. 

Community policing: Community-driven strategies, when combined with community policing and a police department that looks like the community it serves, are effective in increasing public trust — which is essential for public safety. 

Over the last two years, Minneapolis has invested in 12 additional officers focused on community policing, which is resulting in an increase in positive contacts. To build on this success, in 2017, Hodges is proposing adding 12 more officers for community policing. The success of community policing is measured by how well and how often officers are able to engage community members, not by whether officers are making more arrests or writing more tickets. We also know 21st-century police departments must reflect the communities they serve. That is why Minneapolis is also proposing investing in the Community Service Officer program to build a bigger pipeline of diversity into the police department.  

Health at the center: Many factors contribute to violence and ensuring public safety, including housing, health, employment and education. That is why it is critical that leaders incorporate public health approaches to end violence, including ensuring everyone has access to culturally appropriate mental health services and the tools to break the cycle of violence. 

Minneapolis is designing a new initiative to prevent people who experience mental-health crises from being arrested and entering the criminal justice system. A team of three police officers will partner with mental health professionals to respond when people are in crisis. 

Community wellness and engagement will be at the center of a new Group Violence Intervention strategy. We can interrupt violence when community members, police officers and social-service providers directly engage with the relatively small number of people actively involved in violence. 

We applaud Minneapolis for boldly charting new ways and new approaches that redefine what it means to create public safety for all. This long-term level of investment in community policing, when coupled with community-driven strategies and partnerships, will help create the safe and healthy communities that residents, businesses, community members and officers all want. Minneapolis must adopt the mayor’s proposed 2017 budget to sustain the momentum for change.

Anthony Smith is the executive director of Cities United.