The new Office of Neighborhood Safety in St. Paul is preparing to coordinate Operation Peace, which will focus on areas where gun violence is occurring and persons who are participating or may become victims.
According to Brooke Blakey, the office’s director, the approach would include elements of concentrated deterrence and group violent intervention.
“To actually look at how violence is hurting our neighborhood,” she said, it will be “a collaborative effort” with the Office of Neighborhood Safety, the city and county attorneys’ offices, the St. Paul police and fire departments, and community organizations. Healing Streets and Community Ambassadors, two organizations that have previously been working on violence prevention in St. Paul, will be engaged.
The purpose, according to Blakey, is to “wrap around services to those folks” who are most at danger, preventing them from becoming involved in the criminal justice system or being hurt or killed by gunshot.
The theory behind concentrated deterrence is that violence is perpetrated by a limited number of people, and that preventing them may improve the safety of both the individuals involved and the community as a whole.
The city council gets briefings on “community first safety” activities on a regular basis, and Blakey’s first since taking over as head of the Office of Neighborhood Safety on Feb. 28 occurred on Wednesday.
“We all realize that growing… gun violence in our country, in our city, and in our neighborhood is distressing and unacceptable,” said City Council President Amy Brendmoen on Wednesday. “We also recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to halting, decreasing, or eliminating the violence we’ve witnessed.”
This year, killings have claimed the lives of nineteen persons in St. Paul. There were 12 killings at this time last year, and 38 homicides in total in 2021, which is the highest number in the city’s history.
Last year, a community-based panel of more than 40 people made recommendations to the city about alternatives to some 911 responses — which Mayor Melvin Carter has said could free up officers to respond to the most serious situations — and suggested forming an office focused on violence prevention, which led to the formation of the Office of Neighborhood Safety.
Brendmoen described Blakey’s work as “a ‘conductor’ for all of the components of the symphony that are playing together to attempt to make our city safer or modify and enhance people’s lives and results, helping them make better choices on the front end.”
Blakey served as a child protection worker and an investigator for the Ramsey County Public Defender’s Office before becoming a Metro Transit police officer.