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Minneapolis city workers say they are increasingly being subject to threats, harassment and violence by the public

The City Council is considering an employee safety committee to specifically address staff concerns and to provide training around violence awareness and avoidance.

Minneapolis Public Works vehicle with plow
Ward 4 Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw: “In my ward this year, we had someone come to plow the streets who was caught in the middle of gunfire.”
MinnPost file photo by Greta Kaul

Minneapolis city staff say they are feeling increasingly unsafe when interacting with the public. Over the past few months, there has been a jump in the number of employees across all departments reporting harassment, threats and acts of violence, according to the city. 

The situation has gotten to the point where city leaders are considering creating an employee safety committee to specifically address staff concerns and to provide training around violence awareness and avoidance

The new wave of harassment has been aimed at “particularly public works and traffic control,” interim city coordinator Heather Johnston told a meeting of the City Council’s Policy and Government Oversight Committee on Monday, though she did not offer any data detailing the number of incidents. Johnston noted that traffic control is one of the more “diverse teams” in the city and that they are experiencing an “increasing amount of violence.”

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Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw
Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw
Johnston’s report was echoed by several council members at the meeting. “In my ward this year,” said Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw, who represents north Minneapolis’ Ward 4, “we had someone come to plow the streets who was caught in the middle of gunfire.”

Council Member Emily Koski, who represents south Minneapolis’ Ward 11, said that while doing a ride-along in a snowplow and touring a public works building earlier this year, the top concern expressed by staff was about their safety. “Just being out in the vehicles and being out around Minneapolis constituents,” she said. 

According to a resolution drafted by City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, along with providing training and creating the safety committee, the city will “develop a protocol for ensuring that employees who are subject to harassment, threats or acts of violence are provided needed resources to address physical injuries or trauma related to such incidents.”

Council Member Emily Koski
Council Member Emily Koski
Both Koski and Vetaw support the resolution. So does Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah, though she said she believes the tense interactions between Minneapolis staff and the public is a result of residents feeling unsafe around Minneapolis police. 

“To just being sober about the moment we are in, many of our employees will only be safe when the public perceives them as servants of a community who are trustworthy and are not acting with violence and racial bias, as was indicated in the Minnesota Department of Human Rights report,” said Wonsley Worlobah, referencing the recent MDHR report that found that Minneapolis police have for years engaged in a “pattern of discriminatory, race-based policing.”

Minneapolis Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison
Minneapolis Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison
Johnston, who noted that plans for employee safety protocols have been in the works for “the past few months,” said that city staff briefly considered pausing the creation of the staff safety policy when the MDHR report was released. “Instead, we decided to make some changes to the resolution to talk really more specifically about the joint responsibility between the community and our employees,” she said. 

Wonsley Worlobah noted that the City Council does not have authority over the Police Department, which is under the mayor’s purview. “The elephant in the room is that we have a dysfunctional department in MPD that’s largely contributing to the illegitimacy of the great work that many of our other city departments are doing in our community,” said Wonsley Worlobah. 

Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah
Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah
“The public constantly tells us they do not feel safe around some of our staff who wear a badge and city of Minneapolis logo. And that’s unfortunate. I don’t think this is about a lack of respect for city employees and more about the institutions they represent.”

“I’ll be supporting this,” Wonsley Worlobah said about the city staff safety resolution, “recognizing there is a part where we have to do a lot of work rebuilding public trust.”

After passing through committee, the resolution was forwarded to be considered by full City Council on May 12.