Minneapolis Behavioral Crisis Response teams win committee approval for one year extension; city staff and contractor stress importance of longer term commitment

The Minneapolis City Council’s Policy and Government Oversight Committee approved an extension through August 2024 for the city’s Behavioral Crisis Response teams. The current contract with Canopy Roots, who runs the program for the city, expires next month. Final approval of the contract extension is scheduled to come at a meeting of the full City Council on Thursday.

BCR program manager Marisa Stevenson, with Canopy Roots, said a long term contract extension was necessary as a show of commitment to the service, which would help them hire responders. She said her employees don’t know whether they’ll have jobs come mid-August. BCR teems will tentatively be available for dispatch by 911 on a 24/7 basis by the end of summer/early fall, pending the hire of one more weekend night responder.

Stevenson said there are elements of government and community organizations who have told them they assume BCR won’t be around for long, and as a result don’t invest energy in collaborating. She described how BCR went from a “literal storage closet” to a “defunct” building without heating or cooling — then getting funding for a commercial space. In asking for a long term extension, she asked the council to consider the risk Canopy took on with that five year lease.

Gina Obiri, who administers the program through the city’s Department of Performance Management and Innovation, recommended a three year extension rather than just one. She outlined her department’s efforts beginning in March to get the contract extended by three years.

Obiri said that claims of support of BCR from city leaders, after the program was praised by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the US Department of Justice, & Harvard University, are “inconsistent” with the fact that BCR’s status is unresolved less than a month from the expiration of their contract. State and federal investigations of MPD have highlighted BCR as a successful unarmed alternative to police. Though Obiri noted it would be wrong to hold up the program as an example of a response to the city and MPD’s pattern of racist practices because the pilot program was initiated before George Floyd’s murder.

Obiri: “inconsistent support from city leadership” have caused operational challenges including long wait times for vehicle repair, confusion during planning for major city events. This “left staff feeling unsupported and undervalued.”

Council Member Ellison said he wouldn’t make an amendment for a longer contract extension at the meeting today, but that he’d have discussions with others at city hall ahead of a vote by the full city council this Thursday. Ellison called BCR essential, much more than a “nice to have” — and said the city shouldn’t “continue plodding along in a pilot phase for many many years. I think that we need to fully integrate this into how our city does business and how our city keeps neighbors safe.”

Obiri also described how a budgeting issue has caused the city to pause pilot projects for mental health call training for 911 and for embedding mental health professionals in 911. $687,000 allocated for these programs in 2021, was moved to the wrong place after the government restructuring. The funding was sent to the Department of Neighborhood Safety, rather than Obiri’s Department of Performance Management and Innovation.

Obiri’s presentation starts about 16 minutes in. Worth listening as it’s unusual to have staff be critical of city leadership during a presentation.