Part 2: Violence Intervention and Prevention Strategies

Listen: Sasha Cotton, director of Minneapolis’ Office of Violence Prevention, talks about how the OVP is handling the unrest after the killing of George Floyd.
Photo Prevention Institute

In Part 1, we featured Sasha Cotton, director of Minneapolis’s Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) to explore what a public health-oriented approach to violence entails.

In light of the uptick in violence in Twin Cities in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, we also asked Cotton how her office is responding with violence prevention and intervention programs, and what the city’s next steps are.

According to Cotton, both the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Frey are working with national and local experts on violence prevention, as well as investing in community engagement strategies.

The OVP, which views itself as the internal city content experts on community safety outside of policing, is advising both the mayor and Council, as well as investing in its own prevention programs, to address recent violence. Four of the OVP’s 12 programs are being particularly uplifted now.

Group Violence Intervention (GVI)

This program brings together community, social services, and law enforcement to “send a clear and compelling message to groups and gangs that you are valuable, people care about you, you are an important part of the community,” Cotton explains. “But you [groups and gangs] are also contributing to making this community really unsafe.”

OVP helps group and gang members exit a violent lifestyle .

Next Step

OVP’s hospital-based intervention program, Next Step, provides bedside intervention for anyone under the age of 30 who comes into the Trauma 1 units at HCMC and North Memorial with a serious injury from violence.

Before the program was implemented, “a person could get shot, go to the hospital, get stitched up, and be out of the hospital in four hours. In that time no one is ever asking: Why did this happen?” Cotton explains.

Next Step uses a trauma-informed lens to work with the victim and the victim’s family to navigate the hospital system.

In addition to bedside counseling, Next Step provides case management for victims to connect with employment, education, mentorship, housing, and mental health resources. Getting basic needs met can “help a person get centered enough to think about what they want their life to look like aside from this perpetual state of violence,” says Cotton.

Before this program no one asked: What happened? Why did this happen to you? How can we help you? Do you have a safe place to go right now? Do you have a ride home? Do you have a job if you want one? Do you have a home to go home to?

Blueprint Approved Institute

This program offers free public trainings around youth violence prevention to small nonprofits, organizations, and individuals committed to addressing violence within their communities.

Institute participants have the passion and relationships to reach people that larger organizations may not be able to reach, Cotton explains, but might not have the skillset to write grant proposals or conduct evidence-based practice.

The Institute provides a nine-month program designed to help build skillsets and provides micro-grants so participants can coordinate a demonstration project over the summer.

Community-based Funding

The OVP Fund offers support to community-driven strategies focused on violence prevention, up to $50,000.

Click the audio player above, or read the transcript below, to learn more about the Office of Violence Prevention’s role in the wake of the Minneapolis Uprising.

MWP: How are things shifting for your office on a day-to-day level as the months progress after the unrest?

Sasha Cotton: Quite naturally during the unrest we are all troubled in the office; it’s not an environment that anyone wants to be in as it pertains to a city that has had this experience. The killing of George Floyd is an atrocity so our hearts go out to his family and the families of so many people who have experienced violence whether that be at the hands of the police or fellow community members.

As it pertains to our day-to-day work, I think that both the mayor and the city council are invested in developing processes that look at community engagement and getting experts across the country involved [as well as] local experts involved. Both the council as a whole and the mayor are doing these separate tracks that have similar parallels. Both, like I said, have a table that’s focused on national experts; both have a table that’s focused on local people involved in the work; and both have a table focused on community engagement.

Our office is advising both of those processes and we really look at ourselves as the internal city content experts on public safety outside of policing.

We don’t have an investment in the direction that either of these processes go, but we see ourselves as being an incubator to ensure that community voice gets lifted up, that national best practices are involved.

We have great relationships with national folks across the country and so [we want] to connect both the council and the mayor to those kinds of folks who can help think through what the next step should look like.

Continuing with the unrest and the upticks in violence over the last week or so — [we are] investing in the programs we already operate to ensure that people who are touched by the recent violence have the resources and support available to them. With the recent violence over the last five or six days [this interview was conducted on June 26] we have mobilized some community meetings with folks who are doing on-the-ground strategies just to make sure that, to the best of our ability, we can be a vessel to help them coordinate efforts.

We know there’s lots of good work happening in various places across the city, [for] some of which the city partners with agencies and helps provide resources; some of which are more organic and operating outside of the city. We see our role as a government entity as helping to connect those dots and make sure we’re covering the whole swath of the city to the best that we can to prevent the violence before it starts. 

See Part 1 of Sasha Cotton’s interview here