The Minneapolis Police Department turned 150 years old in 2017. One of the more inspired and thoughtful birthday gifts from the people of Minneapolis was the MPD 150 Performance Review and Report. That may sound a bit sarcastic, especially considering that MPD 150 advocates for the abolition of police, but it truly is not. Most of the ideas that MPD 150 explored complement policing because they would shift responsibility for primary response to particular situations to community-based agencies and organizations. This alleviates over-stressed police of the need to deal with situations for which MPD was not designed, let alone prepared or equipped. It is not uncommon to hear police officials explain that police work has been complicated and stretched because officers have been tasked with social services that are beyond their mission and purpose. Building support and infrastructure for community safety initiatives that will become alternative first responders for many crises in the city would be helpful for police. The MPD could go a long way toward pushing back the wave of distrust that engulfs them by working with community leaders and activists to create a sustainable community safety network so that the police will no longer have to respond to incidents that will be made worse by the presence of armed people shouting orders and demanding obedience.
The MDP 150 Report was released to the public in November 2017 with a live event featuring poetry, story-telling, and presentations from the report. It was a delightful mix of humor, spoken word, and crucial information about a critically relevant issue. A trifecta for hungry minds. The report and the public presentation were in 3 parts: Past, Present, and Future. Let’s start with the Future because Kyle Tran Myhre was so damned concise. “Where do we go with all this information?” Good question to have in mind while we listen to what MPD 150 has to say about building safe communities. Might as well put “divestment” on the table right from the beginning. Its all about budgets, after all. The scramble over dollars. We already pay millions every year to cover for cops’ bad behavior, why not redirect funds from MPD to build safe communities? Kyle urged us to think it through, “how would you help your neighbors when they encountered problems? How would you build a safe community?”
The Present section of the report includes interviews with 100s of people that routinely interact with MPD. One group encountered police because they work for an institution that interacts professionally with MPD. The other encountered police primarily because of race, color, an/or social economic class. Michela Day summarized the stories of the community members interviewed for the project and explained the rationale behind the MPD 150 approach. The idea was to give people the chance to speak about their experiences and expectations working along side or being confronted by MPD and listen to what they had to say. The bottom line was that more police, or reform, are not likely to change the situation because the solutions are beyond police. When Asfia Rizwy quoted the PR guy MPD hired to brush up their image as saying “rank and file” police were riled by the word “compassion” in the new slogan his company had crafted for MPD, it tells you that reform is not enough. I wonder what kind of new training program can address the aversion to a standard of compassion? No need to wonder about the impact on the community. Rizwy went on to quote a social worker serving survivors of sexual violence, explaining that victims have been arrested after calling police to report abuse. If that is to be considered effective policing, it becomes clearer why compassion might be seen as an impediment.
The Past section included a discussion of Community Patrols. The video brings together Essie Schlotterbeck’s presentation and Tony Williams’ response to an audience question that was on everyone’s mind. “What happened to the AIM Patrol and others in Minneapolis?” I appreciated the emphasis on positive historical happenings in Minneapolis because it means the idea already has roots in this city. I encourage city leaders to consider supporting community safety groups and street patrols that already have a record of working to benefit Minneapolis residents. Helping to deescalate and redirect passions toward more constructive and healing endeavors for marginalized communities does not directly challenge police. It gives them fewer things to worry about.
Three parts and 1 question. “What would you do to help build a stable and safe city?” When that city is Minneapolis and the discussion is about alternatives to police, I look to our #1 Parks. More community patrols would be wonderful, but a viable alternative should also provide the equivalent of police precincts and sub-stations. The Parks System already has the infrastructure to house such civilian safety hubs. Imagine if we could put that space to work serving residents, particularly the marginalized, with unabashed compassion. We could create something like Urgent Care Clinics for social problems in conjunction with Recreation Centers and other buildings managed by the MPRB. Neighborhood parks could become local civic hubs where residents could access programs enacted or developed by that particular park to answer the needs of people in the neighborhoods across and throughout our city. A Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner said in the last election, “Minneapolis is a city in a park”, and she was right. It seems natural to imagine our parks as places of safety and connection because they touch almost every neighborhood. Just like the police.