Policing Project examines Minneapolis’s alternatives to traditional first response

Minneapolis skyline

Since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020, municipalities around the country have been reexamining the efficacy of their policing strategies. Late last year, the Minneapolis City Council called upon NYU Law's Policing Project—and specifically its Reimagining Public Safety Initiative—to help evaluate the city’s emergency response alternatives to traditional policing, awarding it a $1 million, two-year contract. As part of the Reimagining Public Safety initiative, a project dedicated to ending an overreliance on police, researchers, data analysts, and attorneys at the Policing Project are now working to pinpoint deficiencies in the city’s public safety system and identify new solutions.

Barry Friedman
Barry Friedman

The Reimagining Public Safety initiative had its beginning in “Disaggregating the Policing Function,” a research paper published by Professor Barry Friedman in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review in March 2021. “We need to reimagine the ‘public safety function’ from the ground up,” wrote Friedman, founding director of the Policing Project. “Society has specialized, but still relies on one-size-fits-all responders.” In Fall 2022, the Policing Project officially launched its Reimagining Public Safety initiative, which partners with communities to better understand their needs and then design new public safety systems.

In Minneapolis, the Policing Project’s work will support the Minneapolis Mayor’s Office and its Office of Performance Management and Innovation. In 2023  Minneapolis city leaders released the Safe and Thriving Communities report, which focuses on reworking the city’s current preventative, responsive, and restorative services. Now the Policing Project team is looking at Minneapolis’s existing alternative response programs and putting together a gap analysis, explains Alexander Heaton, the Policing Project’s Director of Reimagining Public Safety. 

One program being studied is Minneapolis’s behavioral crisis health response, which dispatches health professionals to mental health crises instead of police officers. Researchers, data analysts, and attorneys at the Policing Project will assess how many Minneapolitans have interacted with existing programs, as well as the times and neighborhoods where most calls for service originate. With this information, the team will produce a report advising the city on how to best expand its alternative response programs and maximize their effectiveness. 

“What [NYU researchers] are saying is, ‘Here are all the services, here’s where they fit in these categories. Now, are they working?’” Office of Community Safety Commissioner Todd Barnette told MinnPost. “They have the experience in this area to push us forward.” 

As the site of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, “Minneapolis was the epicenter of the most recent calls for reimagining public safety,” Heaton says. “I think it’s important to address the concerns in the place that a lot of the larger [Black Lives Matter] movement grew out of.” 

But Minneapolis isn’t the only US city that is exploring new approaches to policing, Heaton notes. “And so what we are excited about doing is building out the alternative response system in Minneapolis, and then taking it and testing it in other places around the country, once we show that it works,” he says. “Can we show and validate that these programs are working in the way that municipalities hope? Then we can take it on the road and get other cities this care as well.”

Through the Reimagining Public Safety initiative, the Policing Project is researching non-police first response in additional US cities, including Denver, Colorado, and Tucson, Arizona. The Denver report included an in-depth look at the city’s Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program and recommendations to increase its efficiency. Recommendations in the Tucson report centered on expanding “scaling real-time 911 alternative response options that include non-police professionals, formalizing a structure for communication, coordination, and capacity across an array of response and service actors, and enhancing external and internal awareness and confidence through more robust engagement, transparency, and information-sharing.” 

The organization’s public safety findings and alternative first response guidance for San Francisco will be published this summer.    

Posted May 31, 2024