For years, Twin Cities community-based groups such as MAD DADS and A Mother's Love have been known to walk neighborhood streets and engage with young people to prevent violence and crime.
Recently, however, the activities of such groups have been questioned by someactivists and protesters. The Star Tribune reported that one anti-police group put out a "Field Guide to Twin Cities Collaborators" urging protesters to beware of community patrols "that act like police, only minus the badge and uniform."
Some street peacekeepers have been unfairly criticized as "bootlickers" and "sellouts" for working with the city and the Minneapolis Police Department. Typically made up of residents, they are an important part of the community policing strategy — an approach that has been proven to prevent and reduce violence and crime. And while they must be careful not to overstep and act as sworn cops, they have helped tamp down tension and violence.
Sasha Cotton, director of the Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention, said about 10 of the groups currently contract with the city through the two-year-old program. Her office currently spends about $3 million annually on the programs, with the funding being used for training, administration, staff, liability insurance and evaluations. Some groups work with youth or gang members; others act as "violence interrupters'' through street patrols.
And since George Floyd's murder in MPD custody, groups like the Agape Movementand We Push for Peace have worked to tamp down tensions at George Floyd Square in south Minneapolis and downtown during the Derek Chauvin trial.
Cotton told an editorial writer that no formal assessments of the groups have been done yet because the relationships are relatively new, but the office will assess their effectiveness as they go forward. A statement from an MPD spokesperson said that the department had not compiled data on their past partnerships, but that the department's work with them "has developed, evolved and continued on the basis of the anecdotal evidence … and the mutually perceived success as evaluated by MPD, the involved groups and the communities they represent."
Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington has worked with violence prevention groups and community-based clergy during the past several decades — both in his current job and as chief of Metro Transit and the St. Paul Police Department. He told an editorial writer that he continues to meet with the "very independent'' groups, including those that helped keep the peace during the Chauvin trial.
"The same people that I've worked with on outreach to young men won't hesitate to protest against me and my department,'' Harrington said. "That's one of the beauties of having them as allies — they tell you when you're wrong.''He called work with the God Squad and the ambassador program in St. Paul "very successful'' in reaching young people and helping them turn away from violent, criminal behavior.
In addition, national research on crime prevention supports outreach and neighborhood-based peacekeepers as important elements of community policing. Continuing those partnerships also ties in with efforts to delegate some of the nonviolent, nonemergency police calls to civilians.
Such efforts are supported by the national U.S. Justice Department, and program funding is included in the Biden administration's proposed infrastructure plan.
Jamil Jackson of the Freedom Fighters told a Star Tribune reporter that his group works to defend the community from harm, whether it comes from police or members of the public. But as co-founder of the grassroots security organization, he said he has seen what can happen when those protesting police brutality want his group to pick sides.
"Our job is not to get mad or upset or use our emotions when people are yelling and screaming at us," Jackson, who's also a high school basketball coach and founder of the youth mentoring group Change Equals Opportunity, told the reporter. "If they took the time to have a conversation with us, they wouldn't be saying the same things that they were saying."