Public safety isn’t what happens in a courtroom or jail cell. Public safety is what happens in our homes, schools, neighborhoods and community centers, businesses and places of worship. As community members and leaders, as mothers and fathers, we must partner with law enforcement and take an active role in keeping our families safe.
Resident participation and oversight is essential to building communities of trust. As members of an advisory council to Sheriff Rich Stanek and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, we take these responsibilities very seriously.
We participate in the development of agency goals and provide input for the budget and dedication of resources. We strongly support the community-oriented policing efforts of the sheriff’s office Community Engagement Team, which has grown from two to seven members in the past five years. These sworn and civilian representatives are helping to educate residents about law enforcement and provide transparency.
As members of the Sherrif’s Office Community Advisory Board, we assist in these educational efforts by serving as liaisons to the broader community and by sharing community perspectives. We facilitate review of policies and practices to ensure they reflect our community values. We sponsor activities, meetings and town halls, and open our places of worship for gatherings to encourage participation.
We’ve learned from experience — sometimes in the middle of the night, when we are called from our beds to the scene of a homicide. Grieving family members, neighbors, business owners, onlookers and media are separated from first responders, ambulances, investigators and crime scene vehicles — separated, but only by a thin but alarming strip of neon-yellow-and-black crime scene tape.
In those moments we have far more in common than you might think. Regardless of which side of the tape we find ourselves on, we are all devastated at the needless loss of human life. We all seek answers. We all want to restore peace and safety. We all want justice. And we all want to make sure it never happens again.
The best law enforcement officers, like Stanek, are investing in community relationships. He reaches out to us, answers his phone, provides candid answers, shares information, and provides educational opportunities and public-safety messaging; he and his employees demonstrate respect. He, like so many police officers and deputies across Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota, have set very high professional standards for their conduct and are fulfilling their sworn oath to serve and protect.
We agree with a recent survey that finds “very high” public confidence in Minnesota law enforcement.
The best time to build trust is before the warrant sweep, before the 911 call, before the drug search, before the traffic stop. That’s why our work on the Sheriff’s Advisory Council is so important and has been vital to establishing and maintaining law enforcement accountability, transparency and legitimacy.
Yet there have been dozens of shootings in Minneapolis this summer, more than we’ve seen in several years. Something fundamental must change to address this growing problem of violence. We believe that significant change must come from within the community itself.
What more can we do to prevent gun violence? We can encourage reluctant witnesses to step forward, and we can ensure their safety in our community when they do so. We can encourage family members to build stronger support networks. We can adopt a zero-tolerance network and provide tips or call about guns and drugs in our neighborhoods. We can continue to stand as pillars of faith, providing space for hope and healing and worship in our neighborhoods, and grow and expand that space into more homes and hearts.
But more is needed. We need the active participation of policymakers at the city, county and state levels. We need real and meaningful investment in our neighborhoods. We need opportunity for our young men and women, in the form of part-time jobs, positive, character-defining activities and role models. We need educational alternatives for our kids, and adults, who seek skills, betterment, long-term employment and self-sufficiency.
In our communities, we face staggering levels of unemployment (75 percent to 150 percent above the state average), and it’s not because we don’t want jobs. It’s that there is so little economic activity and opportunity and so many barriers to employment.
We call on Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and the City Council, legislators in both bodies and in both parties, the governor and agency heads to come to our neighborhoods, hear from our residents, learn more about the enormous challenges we face and join us in finding solutions.
Our partnership can begin with our shared mission: We all care about our kids and our future.
Bishop Richard Howell is pastor at Shiloh Temple International Ministries. V.J. Smith is president of Minneapolis MadDads. Spike Moss is a Minneapolis community advocate. Harding Smith is pastor at Spiritual Church of God in Brooklyn Center.