'How about: Building a better department?'

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Andrew Johnson

In one of the paragraphs that follow, Ward 12 council member Andrew Johnson speaks to the power of language. When asked about the monumental changes facing the Minneapolis Police Department, he suggests the word “build” as a verb for moving forward. Toward that end, how can we build a better understanding of some of the people working for change in the city of Minneapolis? Perhaps by better understanding who they are.

Do you think there is a word that better describes the restructuring of the MPD than disband, defund, abolish, or dismantle?

I don’t like those words or use them myself. I think they worry a lot of people and give the wrong impression. “Defund” implies taking away and suggests a reduction in service. But the goal is to improve service and get better results (including less crime and greater safety for all residents), so that will likely mean more investment in ways that improve public safety.

How about: build a better department. That’s really what we’re after. One that gets great results and rightfully earns the public’s trust. And just to be clear: Yes, we will continue to need officers as part of our public safety system.

Can you describe what you think “transformational change in policing” means?

From a management standpoint, it means top to bottom (systemic) changes in culture and process to achieve significantly better performance.

Are there any public safety models for cities of comparable size that could work in Minneapolis?

There are lots of successful approaches from other cities and even other sectors that we can learn from. Deploying violence intervention workers to stop street conflicts from escalating. Dispatching mental health professionals for non-violent mental health calls (and as co-responders with officers for calls that might become violent). Dispatching civilian staff for non-violent civil infraction enforcement and report-taking. Utilizing bait vehicles and other items to more effectively catch professional theft rings. Creating a “quality assurance” team that regularly reviews body cam footage for each officer and helps coach them. Mandatory annual check-ins with a psychologist, as well as after critical incidents. More utilization of data and technology, and better communication with the public. Job training and placement for at-risk residents. Restoring investments in after-school programs. There are more to mention than you have space for in column! We were already working to implement some of these, and over the next year will evaluate and integrate more into the “re-imagining public safety” planning effort.

How can Minneapolis residents look forward to engaging in the year-long process of community engagement that lies ahead?

It’s frustrating that the formal citywide engagement process hasn’t launched yet. But I also get that it’s a massive undertaking to put that kind of infrastructure in place to reach 430,000+ residents and engage in a meaningful way. For instance, not everyone has a computer, so how do we best reach them, especially in a pandemic? And how do we make sure feedback influences the direction we go and helps with building plans for improving our public safety system? This effort should center the most impacted residents. And there needs to be a balance between taking time for conversations and making decisions so we can move forward with improvements. It’s a tall order and our experienced City staff are hard at work on it. We expect the engagement process to kick-off this fall.

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