Minneapolis unveils 'audacious' community safety plan

Two cops in an alley.
Two police officers in riot gear stand down an alley from the Minneapolis Police Department's 1st precinct as protesters demonstrate out front.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

Minneapolis leaders unveiled a new community safety plan Tuesday afternoon that lays out a roadmap for public safety that goes beyond policing, instead detailing a vision to create a new model of services that enable community safety and wellness.

The 142-page report from Harvard University’s Leadership for a Networked World calls for the city to work “upstream” on services to prevent social challenges from turning into crime and disorder, and “downstream,” to help heal trauma and build resilience in communities.

The study also calls for the city to build upon alternative policing programs it’s already launched, including its Behavioral Crisis Response program, which provides unarmed mental health professionals, rather than armed law enforcement, in some incidents.

“We need to do much better in Minneapolis at measuring the effectiveness of those plans, finding which services work well and amplifying those and investing in those and perhaps creating new ones that fill some gaps,” said Minneapolis native Antonio Oftelie, who led the Harvard team that produced the report.

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Oftelie said he believes the report is the most ambitious plan in the nation to transform public safety.

“I look at policing organizations around the world, we do a lot of research on this. And while there are pockets of innovation in various cities, no one is doing such a comprehensive and transformative plan. So Minnesota will be the lead on this,” he said.

The “Minneapolis Safe and Thriving Communities Report” was more than three years in the making.

In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd and amid cries for police reform, the city spent around $400,000 in funds from several regional foundations to hire Oftelie, whose team spent about 18 months engaging with Minneapolis residents and nonprofits.

The report comes about three months after the city signed an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to reform the Minneapolis Police Department, and less than a month after the U.S. Department of Justice accused the department of a pattern of bias and excessive force.

Minneapolis leaders stressed that the work to implement a broader community safety plan can coincide with court-enforced efforts to reform the city’s police department.

But Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey acknowledged there’s not a budget for what he called an “audacious” plan.

“Do I have an exact figure right now on how much this is going to cost? I'll be honest with you, No. Millions, for sure,” he said.

Frey said it will also cost millions to comply with a consent decree to reform the police department. He also said it would require the hiring of an unknown number of additional staff.

Oftelie plans to present the report to the Minneapolis City Council Wednesday. Council president Andrea Jenkins said she’s thrilled to get to work on implementing the plan.

“We have to create a continuum of public safety, it cannot just be our MPD in blue. It’s going to take our entire community to work together to bring this vision to fruition, this vision of transformation,” Jenkins said.