Community responds to violence

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Community leaders and residents of Minneapolis’ 8th Ward met May 25 to discuss effective responses to the rise in violent crime in the city this year.
The Summer Safety Strategy Meeting is part of an ongoing series of community gatherings that gives residents a forum to address concerns about safety and livability issues. Community leaders also explained the Minneapolis Safe City Initiative, a $4 million campaign aimed at decreasing crime throughout the city, especially in its most problematic neighborhoods: Jordan, Hawthorne, McKinley, Phillips and Central.

A key element in making the city safer is targeting juvenile crime, said Hennepin County Juvenile Court Judge Tanya Bransford. As the weather becomes warmer and summer vacation begins, teens spend more time outside and away from adult supervision. This can create an environment of boredom and temptation that leads to a cyclical rise in juvenile crime during the summer months. A larger, more visible police force, which is one of the goals of the Safe City Initiative, can act as a crime deterrent, Minneapolis Police Inspector Scott Belcher said.
But having more officers on duty isn’t sufficient to solve the problem of juvenile crime, Belcher said. The entire juvenile system is in need of an overhaul, and the Minneapolis Police Department took a step in that direction by reviving its juvenile unit earlier this month. The unit will deal exclusively with juvenile offenders and will work closely with the juvenile courts. By centralizing efforts to reduce and respond to serious crimes among young people, juvenile cases can be handled more efficiently, said Lt. Bryan Schafer, commander of the juvenile unit. Too often juvenile cases get mired in the bureaucracy of the justice system and are never resolved.

“We want to establish that there is going to be accountability,” Schafer said. “You’re not just going to be waltzing into juvenile detention and walking back out because somebody can’t get their paperwork in on time.”

But the idea is not to adopt a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach to juvenile justice. The collaboration between the judicial and law enforcement agencies streamlines the legal process, Schafer said. This gives both agencies a better opportunity to deal with needs specific to youth offenders.

Bransford cites the mission of the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, a nationwide program designed to find substitutes for juvenile incarceration, as a good model for the Minneapolis courts. The initiative aims to reduce crime, but also to reduce crowding in juvenile detention centers.

“We want to make sure that the children that are in the detention centers are those that need to be there,” Bransford said.

Approximately one-third of the juveniles in Minneapolis detention centers are there because an arrest warrant was issued for a missed court appearance, Bransford said. Many of these children were originally charged with minor crimes that would have resulted in community service or probation rather than detention had they showed up for court.

There are various reasons why children miss their court dates. A common one, Bransford said, is that there is a delay of up to four months between when a juvenile is arrested and when they are summoned to court. During that time, the family may move and never receive the summons. A centralized juvenile unit will cut down on this delay and give caseworkers more face-to-face time with the children to determine alternatives to detention for nonviolent offenders, Bransford said.

Another issue voiced by residents at the meeting is the encroachment of street crimes into residential neighborhoods. With Lake Street under construction, criminal elements that depend on heavy traffic are moving south to 31st Street and the surrounding neighborhoods. Crimes such as open-air drug dealing and prostitution are occurring in plain sight outside of people’s homes.

Residents shared stories about personal confrontations with criminals. Some people felt intimidated. Many were angry. The Safe City Initiative will specifically target these blatant crimes, Belcher said.

The police department has already begun to hire new recruits. Funds are also being used to set up cameras and ShotSpotter systems throughout the city, Gerlicher said. ShotSpotter is a device that reports the location of gunfire to police headquarters within six seconds of discharge. By integrating the two systems, police will have “literally, a video of a smoking gun,” to aid them in investigating gun-related incidents, Gerlicher said.

“We don’t want to move them [criminals] out of one area and into another,” Gerlicher said. “We want them to know it’s not safe [to commit crime] anywhere.

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