How a Minneapolis pilot program aims to foster long-term safety of the city’s communities

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Mohamed Abdi, 21 years old, would bring his younger siblings to the Cedar-Riverside community center to play basketball just like he did as a child. He would be concerned about their safety with the increase in crime in the neighborhood.

He began attending neighborhood safety meetings and learned that the city of Minneapolis had awarded the neighborhood a grant in a pilot program to improve safety in the community. He signed up and now he wants to help his neighbors and keep his siblings safe.

Abdi stated, “It will help me place myself in a better situation with the community overall just walking around and interfacing with people who are need of help.” Because I’m from this community, people can trust me.

Officials from the city and residents alike hope that the program, which is one more in a series of violence prevention and public safety options, will deter crime in some parts of the city.


The pilot programme

According to a request for proposals, the Minneapolis Community Safety Specialist pilot program aims to improve safety in the city while offering training and internship opportunities. The city received $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars during the pandemic. This funding was made available for underserved areas that require more assistance in reducing crime and violence prevention.

One of these neighborhoods was the Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood. In partnership with the West Bank Business Association, the Cedar Riverside Community Council (CRCC) submitted a proposal that included an ambassador program. This would allow individuals to be placed around the neighborhood as violence interrupters. The city gave the neighborhood $400,000.

All residents in the neighborhood participated in the first group of potential ambassadors. They were trained in crisis intervention and had to act out scenarios. There was also an academic section on mental health crises. The training also included testimonials from people who have been in crisis interactions with police officers.

The next step was to receive additional training, such as how to reach out on the streets and how to give NarCan to someone who has overdosed. Finally, certification was obtained online.

MinnPost photo taken by Mohamed Ibrahim
Training session on how to communicate with those experiencing homelessness in progress

“Ultimately, we are trying to get our children to stop embracing the rapid rise in drug culture and abandon it,” stated AJ Awed (executive director of CRCC). “I think having youth, some in recovery and with lived experiences, committed to improving themselves as role models and then being able able to transfer those skills over the next one year to be able help and support their neighbors, I believe it will make a huge difference.

Abdi, a resident of the neighborhood who was born and raised there, stated that the program builds trust between residents and ambassadors quickly. If you have been in the neighborhood and know their language, community members will be more inclined to ask for help.

He said, “They know your relatives or your grandparents.” “This is a stronger and more lasting connection than inviting someone from outside the community.”


City’s other efforts

This program is part of the city’s violence prevention efforts. It includes youth workers who engage young people in their neighborhood, a juvenile supervision centre that helps children who have run into police, and a program that aids victims of violence.

MinneapolUS Strategic Outreach is another example of such an effort. It uses the Cure Violence Approach, a method that was developed over 20 years ago and treats violence as a public problem.

Seven nonprofits partnered with the city to send teams of brightly colored shirt-wearing individuals around high-crime areas such as the Lake Street corridor in South Minneapolis or West Broadway Avenue on its Northside. Unarmed “violence interrupters”, 151 people trained in conflict resolution, are trained to recognize situations that could become violent and help victims find support and services.

The office presented the progress of the interrupter program to a city council committee earlier this summer. It found that interrupters had made more 8900 contacts with street people between mid-May 2021 and the end of 2019.

Sasha Cotton, former director of the Office of Violence Prevention, stated that law enforcement must intervene when something happens. “Our goal is not to cause trouble, but to resolve the conflict before it happens.”

According to the presentation, more than 3900 contacts resulted from interrupters providing resources or services to someone in dire need or directing them where they can get them.

Program officials claim that interrupters have successfully de-escalated over 1,500 conflict situations and situations that could have resulted in violence.

“We had a young boy… he was getting ready for shooting. He was carrying two guns, not just one. He was about to shoot another young man in a dispute.” Connie Rhodes, Restoration Inc., described one encounter to council members. “Our violence interrupters intervened right there. They could have run, but he was willing to pop. But they managed to talk him down. They were able de-escalate the situation.

Awed stated that CRCC hopes to have four areas in Cedar-Riverside with the group of ambassadors next week.

The group will be active over the next 12 month, including acting as “way-finders”, helping people find specific services or locations, providing hotline support, and engaging in litter pick and graffiti removal.

Awed stated that the youth workers want to make an impact on safety in the community. He also hopes that the program will have an impact on youth workers’ lives once the program is over.

Awed stated that the pilot program’s goal is for the kids to have an impact on the neighborhood and its safety and livability. “But, more importantly, getting them the skills, confidence and experience they need to move forward and achieve the goals that they have for themselves in the future.”

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