It was 7:56 p.m., four minutes before a public safety conversation, hosted by City Council Vice President Linea Palmisano, was scheduled to end. The Minneapolis Police Department Fifth Precinct Captain Katie Blackwell had just finished speaking when people rushed to the microphone to ask her questions. The line to ask speakers questions was the longest it had been all night.
The conversation, held at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church on March 21, was structured around six speakers from the city who focused on over 150 questions sent in before the event. Speakers included the new behavioral crisis response team staff from Canopy Mental Health and Consulting and the director of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation.
As community members impacted by crime shared their stories, they wanted to understand how young people charged with crimes could be out in the community.
“Talk to me like I’m a fourth grader. What are the regulations?” Erin, a victim of a home invasion, asked, referring to the process by which people suspected of crimes are released back into the community and not kept in county jail.
“None of the systems talk to each other,” said Catherine Johnson, the director of the Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation. Johnson explained that the database with police report and citation information is not linked with the detention center’s system with incarceration information. And neither of those systems are linked to the judicial system, where people are charged and sentenced.
The lack of communication between agencies was also mentioned by Blackwell.
“I’m still reeling from the statements on all the data systems not speaking at all to each other,” meeting attendee Jan Unstad of Armatage said. “But it helps to explain to me why so many instances of people with multiple pending cases continue to be released seemingly without consideration of all the cases.”
Tom Arneson, the Hennepin County managing attorney for the Juvenile Prosecution Division, touched on the process of detaining, charging, and releasing youth who have been accused of crimes.
“There is a risk assessment that gauges whether kids can be released or not,” explained Johnson. But this risk assessment isn’t perfect, even with what Johnson referred to as an “override function”
As the minutes past 8 p.m. eked on, people’s trauma as crime victims and their disappointment in the system unfurled at the microphone.
Melanie, a victim of a carjacking, recounted her frustration in forensics delays and worried that the people involved in her carjacking were also connected to one that happened ten days later. “We’ve been told, ‘we know who these guys are,’” Melanie said. “You can understand our frustration.”
“We’re tired of hearing ‘I am so sorry that happened to you and that should not have happened to you,’” Melanie said, quoting Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation Director CJ Johnson’s response to an earlier crime victim sharing their story. The audience applauded Melanie’s remarks.
Pat tearfully recounted his experience trying to alert 911 to theft suspects. Pat saw someone steal something from his neighbor’s car and instinctively drove after them. Pat stopped following the suspects because they ran through a red light and he couldn’t get 911 to pick up. “911 finally picked up after 90 seconds,” Pat said. The suspects returned and shot Pat’s car as he was driving back to his house. The police officer who came out to the scene told him to call the inspector’s office, which he did, three times over two weeks and didn’t receive a call back. “Do you want the slug that’s in my car for forensics? Does that help?” he rhetorically asked the speakers.
Earlier in the evening, Erin, emotionally recounted the experience of her family being victims of a home intrusion on Christmas Eve. Erin explained that her neighbors have seen the young men come back into the neighborhood, many times. “Many of us have photos of these men,” she said.
The disappointment in the current system was felt beyond the victims of crime who shared their stories.
Before the event started, a group of people hand-delivered an open letter to Palmisano and passed out copies to attendees. “Tonight’s meeting is challenging for us, because it feels wrong to attend a meeting about public safety with MPD at the table without first acknowledging the complete mistrust that exists between MPD and the community,” the letter reads. The open letter, which is now signed by over 60 people, are Ward 13 residents, founders of several neighborhood anti racist groups, the Justice for Justine group, and people who serve on neighborhood associations.
Community organizer Elianna Lippold-Johnson, a Linden Hills resident, said after the event, “There was zero mention by Linea Palmisano of Amir Locke, the city attorney subpoenaing journalists, the after action report, the MPD staffing study, or the MPD contract that will be voted on this week with no changes to officer discipline/accountability.”
Despite the frustrations expressed by attendees, people acknowledged that the speakers did share important information.
Many attendees I spoke with cited the information about the behavioral crisis response team as the most helpful of the evening.
“The only helpful and interesting guest presenters were from the Office of Performance and Innovation and Canopy,” Lippold-Johnson said. “These were also the only Black people at the event, aside from one audience member.”
Gina Obiri from the Office of Performance and Innovation, Candace Hanson and Marissa Stevenson both from Canopy Mental Health and Consulting, spoke about the city’s new behavioral crisis response team that Canopy plays a major role in. Hanson explained that 911 dispatchers are trained on what calls the team can respond to on their own and which calls require a joint response with MPD. Officers can also request the behavioral crisis response team when out on calls. Stevenson shared that the response team’s office is downtown and they are continuously and directly connected to dispatch. “We are live, all the time,” Stevenson said. Right now the behavioral crisis response team is operating 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday.
The impetus for the behavioral crisis response team was illustrated towards the end of the night when Ryan, an audience member, explained the last time he was in Mount Olivet was for the funeral of his family’s babysitter. She chose to take her own life. A month prior to her death, Ryan explained, “the babysitter was having a mental health episode and that, in her need of need, 911 was called. The police came and it escalated.” In her recounting of the experience with Ryan, the babysitter said that a police response was not what she felt she needed. “This was a profound break in her life,” Ryan said.
A major role of the behavioral crisis response team is to respond to mental health crises, without the police being present. The exception to this would be if someone is brandishing a weapon–an automatic trigger for the police to be present on a call.
Obiri, Hanson, and Stevenson left after they spoke about the behavior crisis response team, about 30 minutes into the event.
After extending the event to 8:30, Palmisano closed the evening by responding to questions about investing in a system that is failing people. “We heard from all these victims, and we are failing them. The police failed the victims,” Kristen, an audience member said.
In response, Palmisano said, “People that I represent, the feedback that I’ve gotten, is that people absolutely want to pay for excellent responses in public safety in our city.” Palmisano said that response includes law enforcement, funding violence prevention projects, and cohesive family support. “All of these things are going to work in tandem,” Palmisano said. “And that is what I’ve tried to create here for you tonight, with having the county here, and the MPD here, and the Canopy Roots system.”
Be sure to read additional community responses to the event here.