From a Recovering Civil Servant

Let's think beyond fortress-like police stations


The recent proposal to reopen a police station in our community is bringing back painful memories and opening old wounds for many of us, me included.
I served on the City Council, representing the people of Ward 2, in 2020 and I remember when George Floyd was killed and the horrific days and nights that followed.
I also remember the commitment I made with eight of my colleagues in the heart of the southside in Powderhorn Park and then in city hall where the council and mayor unanimously resolved to start a process of community engagement to re-imagine public safety and create a “transformative new model” of policing.
That August, I was surprised when a proposal came forward to temporarily rehouse the 3rd Precinct building back in the area, just across the street from one of the two sites now being recommended, near 26th and Minnehaha Ave.
It was clear to me then, that while the city’s property services staff had done a good job of finding a facility that would meet the Minneapolis Police Department’s needs and requirements, the requirements of the community were not being understood.
As I worked to do my job representing the will of the people, it became clear that our city government had not done enough to meet the needs of our residents.
The city had not fulfilled the promise of community engagement. We had done nothing to restore and heal from the injury and trauma of that time and from the larger history it helped uncover of unfair, inhumane and racist policing in our city.
Now the city has returned with a new proposal, only this time for a permanent location. And still, almost three years since George Floyd’s murder, people are still waiting and still wanting the chance to heal.
It was obvious then – and it is obvious now – that this is not the time to repeat old practices and return to the way it was. Perhaps it is time to imagine something better. Could we use the need for a new building to explore new models and pilot new ideas about how public safety services can be provided to and with our community?
Can we think beyond large fortress-like police stations? Does maintaining MPD 's isolation really help to change its culture? Does the old model make law enforcement more, or less, connected to the community? Does it help shatter, or only reinforce, the blue wall of silence and the persistent, militarized, us-versus-them mentality that infects our criminal justice system?
The 3rd Precinct area itself is larger than other precincts in the city. Why not have it divided into smaller precincts and give each one a community safety service center where police could share a facility with other city or county staff from other departments? Could we include a community space and options for people to drop in to meet with health, housing, planning, violence prevention or licensing staff to conduct "business" with the city.
Better integrating our licensed law enforcement staff in with the rest of the city enterprise, county service providers and the community more generally could help change the culture of policing in our city.
These ideas may have merit but let them be seeds that remain dry for now. First, we must prepare the soil.
After participating in many large and smaller community meetings in 2020, 2021, and now, it is clear to me that we are still not ready to make any decisions about if, where, and how new public safety facilities should exist in our community.
First, we need to heal. First, we need to find a shared vision of the future of public safety and the role of licensed law enforcement in our communities.
For years now, people have been asking for a community-led restorative justice process before moving forward. Many people feel profoundly harmed. There are systemic deep-rooted problems and injuries that have been caused by our city government and our police. It is time to turn to the people and organizations skilled in restorative justice and use their expertise and skill to help us recover and restore.
Throughout the city, in block clubs, neighborhood associations, business groups, nonprofits and collaborative efforts we see the work of transforming public safety being done. Within departments and divisions of the city we have seen current and former individuals and teams stepping up and working creatively and effectively to realize broader, more holistic approaches to safety. They have a role to play, as well.
To accomplish these two prerequisites, full, authentic and broad participation will be required where community members, residents, business owners, workers, city leaders, city staff at all levels and the police, especially those who have and will be working in the area, come together in small groups as equals, without weapons, uniforms, or titles.
As time-consuming, costly and challenging as it may seem, I suspect that the only way we will get where we need to be is through these kinds of difficult conversations and more: door to door, house to house, block to block, and neighborhood to neighborhood between people willing to see each other as each other and willing to truly share, and deeply listen with open ears, open minds and open hearts.
It won’t be easy, but it might be possible, and it could be worth it.
Cam Gordon is the former Ward 2 city council member and a longtime resident of Seward.


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