Violence interrupter program set to receive $7.5 million — even though it failed to produce “required” accountability records

Late February, Minneapolis committed $7.5 million to the city’s violence interrupter program. Staffed from members of at least six nonprofit contractors, these violence interrupters wear brightly colored t-shirts while patrolling the streets on foot. Team members are paid $30 per hour and work five-hour shifts, six nights a week. The citizen groups are not affiliated with the Minneapolis Police Department.

As discussed in previous posts on this website, some in the “defund-the-police” movement believe there are viable alternatives to policing which can achieve similar public safety results in terms of reducing crime while avoiding alleged harmful consequences related to an increased police presence. Activists often cite police violence against marginalized communities as a harmful consequence they seek to avoid by replacing police officers on the street with citizen groups. To date, research on the effectiveness of violence interrupters ranges from “weak to disappointing.”

What’s more, replacing police with citizen groups effectively undermines the police department’s ability to engage in modern community policing, which aims to build trust and confidence with the communities they protect and establishes the police as “co-producers” of public safety in neighborhoods plagued by violence.

As the data suggests, Minneapolis is suffering from a spike in murders, gun crime, robbery, and carjackings. City leaders and citizens deserve to know whether the novel violence interrupter program is having an impact on crime and fostering a feeling of security within the communities in which it operates.

According to Sasha Cotton, director of the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, teams made hundreds of contacts with people and report that they have de-escalated a variety of conflicts. A review of the city contract language suggests that the nonprofits are required to complete all necessary documentation, report shift activities, and track all hours worked. This accountability is absolutely critical to determining whether the program is effective and whether taxpayer dollars were properly spent.

There is one problem. The city contends that it does not have records of the work performed.

One local advocacy group filed requests under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act asking the city to produce monthly progress reports from nonprofit groups contracted to do the violence interruption work. The city replied that “written reports were not required of contractors.” Even more surprising was the revelation that

In lieu of organizations submitting schedules and monthly reports, that information is being gathered from the contractors through verbal reports and discussions.

Apparently, some of the reports noted above were made over the phone, according to a city compliance official.

Matt Ehling, a board member with the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, observed,

It’s very surprising that there would not be any data about that because even if the contracted party is not supplying the data, there’s still going to be somebody from the city on the other end of that phone call making notes.

“This is basic ‘good governance 101,’” Ehling said. “The public has to understand what its tax dollars are being used for.”

Late last month, a lawsuit was filed against six nonprofit organizations for not turning over records of how they spent money from the city.

Minneapolis is now projected to spend $7.5 million on top of the $2.5 million previously allocated. Taxpayers deserve to see the reports on how this money was spent and what effect, if any, this program had on community safety. Stay tuned.