As the Minnesota Legislative Session takes its budget negotiations into overtime, lawmakers are wrapping up important negotiations on the typical topics of budget, taxes and, perhaps most important, how to improve public safety and police accountability in our state. In this last push, there is an innovative and under-the-radar approach to healing our state that should not be missed. Over the last year, healing has become a central component of our national conversation on racial justice, and Minnesota lawmakers now have an opportunity to enact policies that could start the healing process for key stakeholders in the debate on public safety.
Minnesota Heals is part of Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget through the Department of Public Safety. The Minnesota House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee included the proposal in its budget omnibus, and we hope that the Public Safety and Judiciary conference working group will continue to discuss it. The proposal cuts through complexities of the public safety reform debate and places foremost the humanity of those most affected right now: families affected by officer-involved deadly use of force, communities suffering in the aftermath of traumatic events, and first responders who have experienced trauma.
We learned about Minnesota Heals as policy residents participating in the 2020-2021 Humphrey School of Public Affairs Policy Fellows program at the University of Minnesota. Our group shares an interest in reimagining public safety in our communities and state. Over the past several months, we have met with various organizations, researchers and individuals working in this space and chose to spend our time advocating for Minnesota Heals because of its common good approach to providing care and support.
The amount of funding allocated in the proposal is modest ($4.2 million) when compared to many other budget proposals and reflects the thinking of the public, first responders, and advocates, as part of by a series of public hearings and listening sessions across Minnesota, led by the Minnesota Working Group on Police-Involved Deadly Force Encounters. Additionally, families have been advocating for this type of support for many years and funding Minnesota Heals is a first step in truly meeting their needs.
The proposal might be best envisioned as a three-legged stool — with all legs essential.
First, and most important, the proposal would establish the nation’s first-ever fund to assist families in the aftermath of officer-involved deaths. Currently, families who lose a loved one in an officer-involved deadly encounter are not provided financial aid for healing services, therapy, burial and more. Minnesota Heals would fundamentally change that, and in turn help build stronger families and more resilient communities.
Second, the proposal would coordinate crisis event mental health services for first responders through a statewide effort, and create a mental health and wellness fund for first responders. Currently, these services are provided through volunteer groups. The proposal seeks to support a broad swath of first responders — not only responding law enforcement, but firefighters, 911 dispatchers, and EMS workers.
Finally, Minnesota Heals creates and furthers community healing following traumatic community events, such as mass shootings, natural disasters, homicides and police-involved killings. This funding would help coordinate and train local people who live in each community to immediately respond to a traumatic community event, to better ensure credibility and an understanding of the unique needs/attributes of each community.
Minnesota Heals is concerned with the necessary healing after traumatic events, and is not a substitute for real, substantive public safety reform, which remains urgent and necessary. The Legislature must continue to build on reforms passed in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd. But Minnesota Heals can be a key part of a larger reform puzzle — and fill an immediate need. We urge the Legislature to pass Minnesota Heals, and we urge all Minnesotans to contact their legislators about this important work.
To support this proposal, our group has gathered support from organizations and individuals that are interested in healing our communities and advancing justice. We hope we can continue to earn bipartisan support from a wide range of Minnesotans, and that together we can address trauma and build stronger, healthier communities across our state.
You can learn more about our project and this policy at www.mnheals.org.
Paul Sand, Samantha Sencer-Mura and Laura Smith are part of the Humphrey Policy Fellows Minnesota Heals Group, which supports efforts to transform public safety.
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