Who needs police? ‘Violence Interrupters’ have been brought in to save Minneapolis (op-ed)


MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Well folks, it’s official like a referee’s whistle – Minneapolis has launched their new means to combat violent crime before it stops. Welcome to the era of the “Violence Interrupters”.

Seriously…that’s what the new violence-prevention team is called in Minneapolis; the “Violence Interrupters”. Their mission: stop violence in the streets before it starts.

Whether or not they’ll be successful is a whole different can of worms, but it’s hard not to be a little cynical when examining the methods employed versus the audacious goals looking to be achieved.

So, for those unaware, here’s what the Violence Interrupters are stacked up against in terms of their resources, goals they hope to achieve and the methods they plan to employ in order to be successful in their endeavors.

Their resources are walkie talkies and being “armed with knowledge”. That’s about it in terms of resources. Oh, they’ve also got matching orange shirts.

Their goal is simple to articulate but daring to conquer – stop potentially violent confrontations before they become violent episodes.

And how do they accomplish this you might ask?

Well, they’re going to be hitting the streets looking for scenarios that can possibly go awry in a violent manner and attempt to deescalate situations by talking things out.

Now to be fair, one of the Violence Interrupters named Abdul-Ahad stated that once things get genuinely violent, they’re going to wind up calling the police:

“They respond to emergency situations, gunshots and stab wounds. We aren’t here for that, you know, we are there to prevent things like that from happening, so they won’t have to get called.”

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Now, imagine if you will, a verbal conflict transpiring at some various corner within Minneapolis where two opposing parties are getting heated. Then, one of the Violence Interrupters sees the action about to go down.

They quickly unsheathe their holstered walkie talkie and put out the notice to this team armed with “knowledge” of the developing situation:

“Mayday! Mayday! We’ve got a situation outside of the gas station! Come quick team – lets drop some knowledge on these folks!”

Suddenly, a massive outpouring of orange-shirt wearing Violence Interrupters hit the scene and starts sharing some knowledge with the conflicting parties.

Each member of the team prefaces every piece of knowledge with such taglines like ‘I was once like you’ or ‘there’s a better way to do this’.

Before you know it, everyone who was intent on causing harm to one another is captivated by the wise words delivered by these possessors of such amazing knowledge and collectively say something like:

“You know, I never looked at it like that. I’m going to enroll in college starting tomorrow.”

Does that sound sarcastic and cynical?

Good – that was the idea.

But whoever dreamt this idea of Violence Interrupters up and then mobilized them as such must’ve had a similar scenario play out in their head…except they must have believed something like that would actually happen and work.

In real life, things don’t always work out as well as a scripted speech akin to what Lawrence Fishburne delivered in Boys n the Hood, where simply saying that violence is bad and then someone just hands over the gun they had and embraces a hug.

But even those participating in this new endeavor in Minneapolis think that just because people like the idea of what they’re trying to do then that must mean it’s working. Abdul-Ahad gushed about how people deliver ovations as they walk around the neighborhood:

“We get standing ovations, hand claps, honks and whistles. That gives us the motivation to keep going.”

Heck – I’d likely cheer for them too if I saw them in the street – because even I like what they’re trying to do. I mean, a group can have a noble goal that’s worthy of praise…but they can also have a laughable way of trying to approach the goal.

That’s this author’s position on the matter.

The goal of the Violence Interrupters is a great one. No one is going to think that trying to curb violence is bad.

At the same time, the means to try to achieve that goal is worthy of all the criticism, mocking, puns and so on being lodged against it.

To be so naïve to think that a simple interjection by an unaffiliated party into rising conflict is all of the sudden just going to diffuse said conflict is the epitome of cretinism.

The chances of success in that effort is likely about as high of a success rate as changing someone’s political opinion online in a Facebook comment section after someone delivers a multi-paragraph response as to why they should not vote for “X” candidate.

It’s frankly laughable. But I wish them the best of luck.   

Dig Deeper

Minneapolis, MN – The Minneapolis City Council recently was schooled by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, and its voters regarding the idea of defunding the police. 

Arradondo presented a 2021 budget plan that eliminates dozens of unfilled positions. The funds go to a program that pairs officers with mental health professionals.

Arradondo spoke to the City Council’s Budget Committee and laid out a plan to work with the 7 percent reduction that was included in Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposed 2021 budget.

Frey has insisted that cuts are necessary in order to make up for lost revenues. The revenue of the city has been reduced drastically due to the pandemic and the violent aftermath of George Floyd’s death in May.

Luckily, the chief’s plan doesn’t include layoffs . . . yet. However, Arradondo is concerned about filling positions of lost personnel. He said:

“Maintaining target staffing levels will be challenging due to significant and unpredictable attrition.”

The department’s data says that less than 750 active sworn officers are currently working. This is 100 fewer officers than in June. According to worldpopulationreview.com, Minneapolis has a current population of about 437,000 people.

The police chief is working with three officers for every 1,750 people.  City officials explain the lack of officers by saying they took leave in the months after Floyd’s death. The department projects the number of police officers could dip close to 700 by next summer.

Facing a potential $14 million cut, Arradondo said the department will have to shift its resources to officers responding to 911 calls and investigating crimes. Other proactive work will be put to a halt. He said:

“It’s really something I would rather not do.”

In a presentation on the morning of Oct. 8, Arradondo outlined in new detail how the initial proposed changes would affect his department. Because of the budget cuts and an unprecedented wave of officer departures, the city anticipates the department will have 937 full-time employees in 2021.

That is down from 1,083 budgeted in 2020. Those figures include both officers and civilians.

The employees who remain will likely work more overtime. He warned that residents should expect longer response times if the existing crime levels persist.

Let’s say it louder for the people in the back — 

He warned that residents should expect longer response times if the existing crime levels persist.

He will need to institute a hiring freeze to save money. Of course, the money saved will be offset by increased overtime costs. The chief said:

“As we lose more personnel, that will mean requiring those remaining personnel to take on additional overtime to serve those shifts.”

Of the remaining employees, the bulk of them, 531, down from 604 budgeted in 2020, would be assigned to public safety services. Those are the ones responding to 911 calls. The next largest group, 192 employees, down 34, would work on investigations and forensics.

Arradondo said detectives will have to work as “generalists.” This means that the detectives who follow up on crimes will have to investigate many types of crimes, rather than specializing in one, such as homicide or robbery. Investigators would have a larger workload as a result.

Councilmember Steve Fletcher, who represents downtown Minneapolis, said he had concerns about cuts to investigations. He said it was the “place I’d be the least likely to cut.” Fletcher stated:

“I’m concerned that we are cutting, but then at the same time, also making ourselves less effective for the money.”

Councilmember Lisa Goodman, who also represents downtown, called the chief’s report “somewhat alarming.” She said:

“I don’t feel that it’s taking into account the crime and safety issues we have generally and what I’m hearing from my own constituents.”

Goodman also said business owners have employees who are scared to come to work. She’s also heard of residents who have told her they are terrified to go outside.

The concerns were echoed when several dozen people shared their thoughts with a council committee. The public comment period, the council’s first on safety issues since Floyd’s death, was scheduled after people demanded it.

Nearly all of the speakers said that they had lost their sense of safety. They lost it because they or their loved ones had been victims of crimes. These crimes ranged from break-ins to assaults to having shots fired into their homes.

This is a 180-degree turn from where the earlier hearings held by the Charter Commission had people widely advocating for cuts to the Police Department. The folks who spoke last Thursday advocated for more officers and more funding for the department.

George Saad, a 10th Ward resident, told council members he is an immigrant, a minority and a “child of war.” He chose to live in Minneapolis because of its “rich diversity.” However, with the recent spike in crime, he no longer feels safe walking or driving around. He placed some blame on the City Council.

“Since the unjustified and unfortunate death of George Floyd, the City Council has engaged in rhetoric that has emboldened criminals, the proof of which is in the unprecedented spike in crime.”

Saad added as he ended his comments:

“You have endangered us, our homes and our businesses.”

Some suggested their own alternatives. One idea was to implement an emergency 60-day plan. Another idea was to bring in officers from other locations to help on a part-time basis. Many wanted more clarity from the council on their plans for changing policing. They really wanted to know if the council is willing to tweak or abandon them.

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Shannon McCormick, a speaker, asked them:

“I’m wondering: If this next year of community engagement and research for the new policing model does not show support for this, are you prepared to not move forward with this plan?”

Council members are largely supportive of alternatives to sending officers to calls. They reason that some calls involve situations for which police are not well-trained. They have been particularly enthusiastic about the Co-Responder Program. This pairs mental health professionals with officers responding to crisis calls.

Arradondo’s plan includes nearly a half  million dollars in ongoing funding for the program. This program had previously been paid for using one-time dollars. 

Councilmember Cam Gordon said he’d like to continue the discussion outside the budget committee on how the program can be expanded. 

“I’ve had lots of conversations with residents and others who want to see it work and work better. There’s ideas about having the program maybe operate a little differently — in terms of them being able to be a first responder to incidents.

“There’s also some models folks have looked at having mental health mobile units so there can be a mental health response first and then if backup is necessary there’d be a police response.”

A short while after the public comment period, the council’s Public Health and Safety Committee signed off on a $110,000 plan to boost community engagement efforts on public safety issues.

The plan would waive the hiring freeze to hire two more employees and city bidding rules to hire a contractor to help with other outreach efforts, such as translation services or graphic design.

Councilmembers will amend the mayor’s proposed budget before they approve the plan in December. 

Don Samuels, a former member of the board of directors of Minneapolis Public Schools, posted on Facebook about the story.

Some of the comments are proactive in wanting to help the community:

“I sent this email tonight: Although I no longer am a resident of Minneapolis, I was born and raised in the city. I recognize the critical importance of Minneapolis to the success of our entire state. It is for that reason I write. Please look beyond the politics of the moment to consider the safety and security of all residents of Minneapolis.

“Integrating more community and health services in policing is a worthwhile goal. But it can’t come at the expense of the safety of residents who need and deserve timely and effective police responses to the violence that now is overwhelming the city. Throughout my many years in public policy and community service, I always have promoted the importance of a vital and robust Minneapolis.

“The success of residents and their neighborhoods, the business community and the city’s entertainment venues require that everyone — residents and visitors — feel safe. If the city leaders aren’t able to deliver on this basic function of government, then Minneapolis will suffer. And, if Minneapolis suffers, so, too, will the state.”

Others felt helpless:

“I wish, I thought they would listen to us, but I feel hopeless.”

Others are over the city council and the government:

“Don, I have challenged the Mayor and other city council members to go to 911 many times over the last year (on Facebook, on their posts) to see what is really going on in this city, with no response.

“So, I trouble believing that emails will work. Sorry but I have lost all faith in our city government and we are not even close to the worst of it. So, I will hunker down and ride out the storm. And, if I find a house outside Mpls that I really like, I am moving.

“I would add: the council needs to stop promoting their own self-serving agendas and programs under the guise of “equity” or helping north . . . it’s all window dressing to just benefit their own areas and leave our community to fend for itself like always . . . only with accolades that they are doing something because of all the PR campaigning. So gross.”

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