The Hennepin County Board plans to bring leaders from all 45 cities in the county together in May to explore new ways to combat rising crime.

Last week, commissioners unanimously supported spending up to $500,000 to hold a three-day "Safer Communities Summit" May 16-18. An official vote is expected Tuesday at the board's regular meeting.

The idea comes as Hennepin County leaders and officials from across the state wrestle with how to best address elevated crime rates since the pandemic. Serious crimes like assault, robbery and auto theft are increasingly being perpetrated by teenagers.

Commissioner Jeffrey Lunde, who chairs the board's public safety committee, proposed the event, which would be organized by Cities United. The Louisville, Ky., nonprofit works with communities nationwide on plans to reduce gun violence and to improve opportunities for young Black men and boys.

Cities United previously worked with officials in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Brooklyn Park, where Lunde was mayor for nearly a decade before joining the County Board in 2021. He said the organization's approach to analyzing public safety challenges and helping local leaders find new solutions helped lead to a significant decline in youth crime in his city.

"Oftentimes, leaders know the challenges, they just don't know where to start," Lunde said.

Anthony D. Smith, Cities United's executive director, said the summit would bring together city leaders, law enforcement, school officials, community groups, victims and even those who've committed crimes. They will work with national experts to understand root causes, what programs have been effective and how communities can better work together.

"We are trying to get folks on the same page, to come together and make sure we are all working in partnership to create safe and healthy communities for those most at risk of being impacted by gun violence," Smith said. He emphasized that an important part of Cities United's work is helping communities develop public safety plans to improve policing and gain residents' trust.

While the County Board was supportive of hosting the summit, there was also some skepticism that yet another meeting could make a difference.

"I think there is some major potential here," said Commissioner Angela Conley, who noted that her District 4 constituents in Minneapolis want to move beyond talking. "I want action."

Lunde and Smith both agreed, saying local leaders should finish the summit with new ideas and partnerships to better address crime. "It is not just about talk, it is about action," Smith said.

County leaders have made a dedicated push in recent years to address rising crime, specifically among teens, including creating a safe communities department, awarding more than $10 million in violence prevention grants and embedding social workers in every city. Last June, County Attorney Mary Moriarty launched an intervention program to deter youth auto theft.

County leaders were also a driving force behind the Working Group on Youth Interventions, a legislative panel co-chaired by Lunde that recently made recommendations for overhauling the juvenile justice system. Among the needs identified by the panel were improved licensing, additional funding and counsellors and more programs for struggling teens.

"I believe this is a logical evolution of what the county is doing," Lunde said of the Safer Communities Summit.