Minneapolis’s efforts to ‘re-imagine public safety’ face more scrutiny

Minneapolis leaders have made a concerted effort over the past five years to “re-imagine public safety.” They have committed to diversifying their approach away from a law enforcement-centric approach to a more community and public health-based approach.

In doing so, Minneapolis has intentionally diverted tens of millions of public safety dollars away from its police department and used those dollars to create its Office of Community Safety and the subunit Neighborhood Safety Office.

The effort has stumbled time and again. The use of nonprofit-run “Violence Interrupters” has been plagued by concerns over a lack of accountability, a lack of coordination with other public safety entities, and a lack of results. The former director of the Neighborhood Safety Office created controversy with her support for black militias in Minneapolis. The high-profile hire to be the city’s first Commissioner of Community Safety, Cedric Alexander, whose hire was touted as a “seminal moment” for the city, lasted just one year in the position before announcing his resignation this past summer.

Now the city has been sued by a city resident and lawyer who has asked a judge to suspend programs funded by the Neighborhood Safety Office “before more public funds are improperly spent.”  

A Star Tribune article about the lawsuit states:

“Minneapolis launched the Neighborhood Safety Office in 2018 to address violence through public health. Frey has proposed a nearly $18 million budget for the office in 2024, up from $2.7 million in 2020.

The office oversees the Violence Prevention Fund and Gang Violence Initiative — grant programs funded in part by a pandemic stimulus package passed by Congress in 2021. Each program has paid out millions of dollars since 2019 to nonprofit organizations and private contractors aligned with the community safety-driven mission. The final grant recipients are chosen by the director of the Minneapolis Office of Public Safety.

The lawsuit says the evaluation process is so flawed that it falls short of “the most basic competitive bidding or proposal evaluation process,” and is therefore illegal.”

“Re-imagining public safety” has proven more difficult than Minneapolis city officials anticipated — and much of the difficulty has been self-induced.

While there is no indication these difficulties will dissuade Minneapolis leaders from the progressive direction they have chosen, it is telling that any success Minneapolis has had fighting violent crime has been the direct result of proactive policing strategies — efforts being carried out by a police department which has been devalued and vilified by the city’s political leadership.

Let’s hope this fact is not lost on newly appointed Commissioner of Community Safety Toddrick Barnette. He has the talent to right the ship. Does he have the backing to do it?  Time will tell.