After divesting more than one million dollars from the city’s police budget to fund “violence interrupters” to intervene and defuse potentially violent confrontations, the Minneapolis City Council’s plan to provide a “holistic, public health-oriented approach” to public safety is nearly ready for primetime.
The deployment of holistic public health and safety healers is desperately needed as residents have seen the city’s crime rate soar recently. Murders this year are already ahead of the total for 2019, so there is an urgent need to get a force out on the streets to interrupt the violence.
“If we have these systems in place we are getting ahead of the violence,” said Minneapolis City Council member Phillipe Cunningham. “That’s why I have advocated so strongly for the violence interrupters, because if they are interrupting the violence before the guns are being fired, then the MPD doesn’t have to respond to that violence.”
Over the past month, a trial group of violence interrupters has been out on the streets of Minneapolis de-escalating conflict in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. Wherever there is a dispute, and tensions are starting to rise, the violence interrupters swoop in and skillfully defuse the situation without resorting to the rough stuff.
In order to come across as non-threatening, the violence interrupters dress in sandals, khaki trousers, and casual button down shirts sporting the Minneapolis municipal logo. Windbreakers and baseball caps emblazoned with “MVI Chillax” were scrapped after being deemed too federal agent looking.
All violence interrupters utilize body cameras, which they prefer to call “harm reducers,” to ensure professional conduct and avoid misunderstandings. A video released to the public recently shows a typical interaction where a violence interrupter de-escalates a potentially dangerous situation:
“Uh, hold on a minute, young man, looks like you’re a bit hot under the collar. You’ve got your heater there and you’re thinking about busting a cap. I know, I can tell, I’ve been there myself. Once, a fella tried to get fresh with my girl and I almost had to give him the business. So let’s, you and me, talk this out man to man like, and get to the bottom of what’s upsetting you.”
It isn’t long before the pair develop a meaningful dialogue and the troubled young man willingly hands over his firearm to the violence interrupter.
Getting ahead of the violence and interrupting it is the name of the game. But some worry the violence interrupters might make a situation already fraught with danger even worse.
“Listen, we get it, nobody likes to be interrupted when they’re about to stick up a liquor store,” said one recruit.
In some instances, violence interrupters have been hospitalized and treated for inadvertently using their face to interrupt a violent assault. “I guess some find our constant interruptions a little annoying,” the recruit said.