By Marielle Mohs

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A new safety program is hoping to crack down on crime in north Minneapolis not by working with police, but by building trust with community members. Leaders there say they want to make public safety a full-time job, not just a volunteer effort.

The Community Safety Specialist Program, which has a theme of “for the people and by the people,” says they will not be informants or make citizen arrests.

The program was founded a month after George Floyd’s death by members of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council. Up until now, those people out on the streets building community trust were volunteers wanting to make a difference.

North Minneapolis is Michael Powell’s home. He wants to see it as a better and safer place to live and he is choosing to be part of that change.

“There is so much but we feel like we’re not heard, and I stand 6 feet, 4 inches, and sometimes I feel like I’m not even seen,” he said. “I want to be a face. I want to be an inspiration and I want to be part of something that’s the beginning of people who look like me, people who feel like me and people who have been in conditions like me, to understand that the world is with them, instead of against them.”

The Minneapolis City Council, Mayor Jacob Frey and the local labor union have teamed up to make these community safety specialists a real trade with a living wage and benefits. It will also come with extensive deescalation training.

The hope is that it will encourage more people to take on the role as a full time job, not just a volunteer effort. Once trained, specialists will be assigned one of the 15 districts that make up north Minneapolis.

“Within those 15 districts, ever district has a lead or a mentor,” said Gayle Smaller, NRRC Safety Committee Chair. “I’m District 9, so in District 9 how it works is once we hire CSS workers, me as the lead for District 9, I will take them around and introduce them to every individual resident. We will create phone trees and different things like that to onboard them into the system which has been working in the neighborhood.”

The program’s role is to figure out how and why so many guns are getting into their community, and try to prevent it from happening.

Smaller says CSS workers are not an extension of the police. They’re simply here to build relationships and try to prevent crimes before they happen.

“The information they’re providing us, we’re not using it to get them in trouble. We’re using it to save them,” Smaller said.

CSS workers can make up to $23 an hour with benefits after one year of training.

The funding is coming from public and private donations, as well as city funding. The long-term goal is to expand this program to other parts of South Minneapolis with high crime as well.

Marielle Mohs