Morning Edition

DOJ report praises Minneapolis behavioral crisis response team

DOJ Investigation on MPD
U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland discusses the findings of a multi-year investigation by the Department of Justice found that the Minneapolis Police Department is guilty of a wide range of civil rights and excessive force abuses during a press conference in Minneapolis on Friday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

The federal Department of Justice now enters into negotiations with the City of Minneapolis over what will be a legally binding plan to reform the city's police department. That's after the DOJ issued its investigation into the department, sparked by the death of George Floyd and after decades of complaints about its treatment of people of color.

The report shows the department's culture and practices created systemic problems that made the police killing of Floyd possible.

It was also critical of the Minneapolis Police Department's treatment of people having mental health crises. But the report had positive things to say about the city's behavioral crisis response team. The report praised the unarmed mental health professionals who answer certain 911 calls and says the program should be expanded.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke with Marisa Stevenson, the interim program manager with Canopy Roots, the group that runs the program.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.   

We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here.

Audio transcript

INTERVIEWER: The Federal Department of Justice now enters into negotiations with the city of Minneapolis over what will be a legally-binding plan to reform the city's police department. That's after the DOJ, Friday, issued its investigation into the department, sparked by the death of George Floyd and after decades of complaints about its treatment of people of color. The report, released Friday, shows the department's culture and practices created systemic problems that made the police killing of Floyd possible.

The Justice Department was also critical of the MPD's treatment of people having mental health crises. But the report had positive things to say about the city's behavioral crisis response team. The report praised the unarmed mental health professionals who answer certain 9-1-1 calls and says the program should be expanded.

So we're joined now by Marisa Stevenson, the interim program manager. She's with Canopy Roots, the group that runs the program. Welcome to the program.

MARISA STEVENSON: Thanks for having me. Happy Juneteenth.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you, and to you as well. Your teams have been quietly working for, what, more than a year. So being called out by the DOJ has to have been a bit of a surprise. How many calls have your folks been on so far?

MARISA STEVENSON: Yeah. Since the inception of the program, we've responded to over 8,000 calls.

INTERVIEWER: There was some skepticism at first and probably some misconceptions that your teams would replace police in some instances. How do you work with police?

MARISA STEVENSON: Yeah. We have really worked hard to build relationships across all of the city entities-- EMS, fire, MPD. And really it's about engaging in conversation and really being open to hearing what all of them have to say and really just collaborating.

INTERVIEWER: Have you had-- well, maybe we'll step back here and tell folks, you get a phone call from dispatch, from 9-1-1, saying go to this address. What happens after that?

MARISA STEVENSON: Sure. So there's always two responders that respond to each call, to conceptualize it for you. So we have radios. We're always connected to dispatch. We have the computer system, and we can always-- we're always aware of what's going on and what notes dispatch is putting in.

So we go, knock on a door, announce ourselves, and try to engage the recipient. Mainly, we work with-- we do de-escalation. We're trauma-informed, culturally-responsive and really are person-centered in our approaches.

INTERVIEWER: And you're not with police at these calls. Right? You're on your own at first.

MARISA STEVENSON: Correct. Yeah. The majority of the calls that we respond to, we respond on our own. We do have the capacity to call for backup, if we need it, and then vice versa. PD can also call us for backup, which they do quite often as well.

INTERVIEWER: And when do you normally call for backup?

MARISA STEVENSON: Calling for backup would be an instance where we would need to do a transport hold, which is an involuntary hold for somebody who isn't safe to themselves or themself or others in the community. So in that instance, we would need EMS and PD to enforce that. And then otherwise, if they're-- we don't get dispatched to calls where there's a known weapon on the scene, or if there's been-- if there's violence happening in the moment. But sometimes, we get someplace, and the call isn't exactly what the caller called in and said. So we may need PD to back us up.

INTERVIEWER: So you've responded to about 8,000 calls since the inception of the program. How many times have your folks been in danger? Have you had any injuries of your teams at this point?

MARISA STEVENSON: No. It's historically been very safe. I think that's a misconception, that this work is dangerous. And to like humanize, destigmatize, and decriminalize mental health is so important, and so we've been safe.

INTERVIEWER: Are you getting more calls and you can handle?

MARISA STEVENSON: No. No.

INTERVIEWER: So 8,000 calls does seem like an awful lot, though. How would you manage to expand this program, if you could?

MARISA STEVENSON: Yeah. I think in order to grow, so at the time that the DOJ wrote the report, we were having some mechanical issues with our city vehicles. Since then, we have three brand new vehicles that we were very excited about and put us in a position to be responsive and in-service 24/7 now, coming up this week. And if we were to grow, I think the biggest thing is advocating for the city to keep contracting with Canopy Roots, to operate the BCR. Continued funding and efforts need to be put into the expansion of the program, that we have an equal stamp, structure, and funding, just like EMS, fire, and MPD.

We're proud to do this work. I'm proud of Canopy Roots and the responders. They're doing an excellent job. They're dedicated, they're skillful, and they're excited and passionate about this work. So that's the main thing.

INTERVIEWER: So how surprised were you to get the shout-out from the DOJ?

MARISA STEVENSON: Not that surprised, actually. No. I would not say I was surprised. I know the level of work that we're doing. We're reimagining what crisis response looks like, and I think this program will be continued to be uplifted.

INTERVIEWER: Final question, have you gotten any inquiries from other cities wanting to know, hey, how are you doing this? We want to try something similar.

MARISA STEVENSON: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I think this is a macro conversation that is impassioned by many people, and yeah, we are in conversations.

INTERVIEWER: All right. I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

MARISA STEVENSON: Thank you.

INTERVIEWER: Marisa Stevenson's been with us. She's the interim program manager with Canopy Roots. That's the group that runs the Minneapolis behavioral crisis response teams.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.

Volume Button
Volume
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News