Now better trained and resourced, Minneapolis violence interrupters to hit streets next month

Office of Violence Prevention will also partner with 15 organizations to keep the peace

A man faces a gas station. The back of his orange shirt reads "outreach."
Tim Underwood stands at the Stop N Shop gas station with a team of MinneapolUS violence interrupters on Oct. 10, 2020. Violence interrupters are employees of the city's Office of Violence Prevention. The program is modeled after similar efforts in New York City and Philadelphia.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

A year ago this week, the murder of George Floyd renewed calls for a drastic change in the way we police communities. The Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention took a central role in trying to answer that call, and it's done so during a year of surging crime.

There already have been more than 200 gunshot victims in Minneapolis this year compared to just over 80 during the same period last year. And in recent weeks, three children were hit by gunfire, including 6-year-old Aniya Allen, who died.

A woman gestures as she sits at a conference table with two men.
Sasha Cotton, who directs the Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention, (center) leads a violence prevention steering committee meeting on Dec. 31, 2020. Also pictured are Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo (right) and Mayor Jacob Frey.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

How do we keep communities safe and build a different policing model for the future? Sasha Cotton heads the Office of Violence Prevention for Minneapolis and joined All Things Considered Thursday.

An excerpt of Cotton’s conversation with host Tom Crann is transcribed below. Listen to the full segment in the audio player above.

Has your office been pulled in to help quell the violence on the north side of the city?

Our office is working across the city, but quite naturally, we're looking at those places that are most deeply impacted. And of course, the northside is been hit really hard by violence. So we are working with community organizations over there in the north Minneapolis area. We're certainly working with the Council members.

We're really excited about some of the work that we're doing around this new or renewed MinneapolUS model, which is focused on reducing gun violence.

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Tell us how that model works.

One of the things that I will say about our work in Minneapolis is that a lot of our work to date has been pretty behind the scenes. We’re deeply embedded within our hospital systems. And we also do work with probation and others who are very high risk.

But the MinneapolUS work will be very publicly focused. We will have seven teams of interrupters, roughly 15 individuals, who have credibility in the community, because we know we have to leverage people who have the relationship and the ability to talk to the people who are actively involved in the shootings, and compel them to do something different.

We did pilot this work at the end of 2020, but we've really doubled down both on investment and training to get teams ready and prepared to hit the streets in early summer.

We know law enforcement has a role to play in public safety. But if we can get in front of the shootings before they happen, we're going to have happy, healthier, safer communities.

Your partnering with community groups is, in some ways, a direct response to those who are calling for a different approach here. And yet some of those residents still don't trust the people you've been putting on the streets because they see them as an extension of the city or the police. How do you build trust there and overcome that?

We are working steadfast on building those relationships. And we recognize that some of this is going to be a matter of having the proof be in the pudding and really showing people that we're serious, that we're committed, that we're willing to work across differences of opinions.

Because our work is a part of government, it’s never going to please everyone. But our goal is to reduce the violence, increase community connections and build that rapport that's going to lead to long-term change in the relationship that our city has with its communities.

What are we likely to see next? Because it seems like some of these efforts — people expected them to be visible and bold after the killing of George Floyd.

Well, one thing I will always caution people with is that government is slow. And our system of policing has existed for over 150 years, and our office is just coming up on its second year. So while we recognize there's a great sense of urgency — and we do need to do work that will be effective quickly — we don't want to rush and do more harm than good.

You’ll very soon be seeing interrupters out on the street in large numbers engaging with community. It is going to bring about, I hope and believe, a sense of safety that our community hasn't had.