Community Safety Specialists graduate training as part of different approach to public safety
A new security team is hitting the streets of Minneapolis, equipped with special skills that include de-escalation techniques and mental health training.
They’re called ‘Community Safety Specialists.’
13 of them graduated Saturday night after a year-and-a-half of training.
For new grad Alonzo Williams, it was a proud moment.
“It’s a feeling of gratitude,” he says. “You know, serve the community I grew up in, I want to see prosperous. So, it’s a good feeling.”
The 13 grads are the very first Community Safety Specialists, or CSS.
They are not police, but instead are an unarmed, uniformed neighborhood safety force — with special skills.
“They’re licensed emergency medical first responders — they’re licensed mental health first responders,” says Gayle Smaller, the Safety Committee Chair of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council.
The council, which owns the CSS project — teamed up with SEIU Local 26 and Next Global Security to launch the project.
Smaller says the new specialists received 160 hours of classroom instruction at Anoka Technical College and underwent more than 2,100 hours of fieldwork, learning about CPR, mental health protocols, and first responder training.
With that training, he says, they’ve already been patrolling the streets for months — and he says they’re well prepared.
“When they approach a scene and tell somebody’s having an anxiety attack versus a panic attack, see if they’re bi-polar,” Smaller explains. “They’ve learned to read these signs to help the de-escalation.”
“If we find a gunshot victim out there, we know how to heal and bond people. Stop the bleeding until paramedics come,” adds Specialist Troy Bowman. “We know the people we’re dealing with, so we go in and try to de-escalate whatever situation it might be.”
The program even got a shout-out from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
“You all are now equipped to do some incredible work,” he declared.
Each specialist is assigned a district made up of six to 13 blocks, where they get to know residents and local businesses.
They pass out cards with contact information while on patrol, to establish personal connections.
“We just hand out our phone number when we get to know people,” Smaller says. “People can reach out to their Specialist directly.”
“Good neighbors caring for each neighbor in a way that’s not just a hood no more — but the neighbors are back to make the neighborhood connect,” says Specialist Michael Powell.
Many, if not all the specialists are from north Minneapolis.
They carry naloxone, which can counter the effects of a drug overdose.
Williams says the mental health training has been invaluable.
“Understanding the significance of mental health,” he says. “Everyone’s not a drug addict, everyone’s not prison-bound, some people just need a little help, a little mental health evaluation.”
Smaller says the total cost of the program is about $1.4 million and that about $500,000 of that comes from the city.
The remaining funding comes from foundation grants and private donations.
He notes CSS is already making a difference.
Smaller says specialists have intervened five times to save the lives of residents, including two victims of gun violence.
He adds that group members teamed up with residents and the city to have two drug houses demolished.
“They’ve been pounding the pavement, building relationships with residents,” Smaller says. “It’s really unique. We really wanted to hear from the community we’re working in. What’s your perception of safety? What does safety look like to you?”