“Criminals don’t want to be known,” Fowler told a crowd of about 150 people who gathered at Columbia Grounds in Northeast last Thursday, April 27. “They choose an area where they think they can intimidate people. Our objective is not to go out there and become bullies.”
Guardian Angels “hang out” in the same places and attempt to talk to kids or adults whom they think might be causing trouble. “We tell them, ‘You have to share the streets with us. This is our community and we want to take it back.’” They attempt either to recruit them as Guardian Angels or find mentoring programs for them, he added.
Audubon Neighborhood resident John Schulte, founder of the Northeast Citizen Patrol, espoused a somewhat shorter-term approach. “I want to move the thugs out of our neighborhood. Push them to the next state. Maybe Iowa.” His comment brought applause from the crowd.
Schulte said he recently invited the Guardian Angels to Minneapolis and also founded the Northeast Citizen Patrol last year, because he is angry about the livability crimes and violent crimes he’s been seeing on his block and in the neighborhood.
“This is not a complaint night, it’s a ‘do-something’ night,” he said. “We need to take action and we need to do it now. We can’t stand back, close our doors and ignore it anymore.
People tell me they are afraid to go to the park or walk to Walgreens to get a prescription filled. People are being shot or mugged. There are many ‘smash and grabs’ at local businesses. The police are overwhelmed. Northeast is a big place; sometimes when you call 911, they’re over at the University of Minnesota.”
Schulte said the Northeast Citizen Patrol is off to a good start, establishing a physical presence in the neighborhood. “People are so happy when they see us.” He urged others to join either the patrol or the new Minneapolis chapter of Guardian Angels, which will be based in Northeast. He also told the crowd to “call 911” if they see something suspicious. “You can follow up on your 911 calls, and see what’s happening,” he added.
Fowler said they’d been able to call several Minneapolis Guardian Angels out of retirement and intend to “update our alumni” on new training procedures.
People who sign up to join the Guardian Angels will go through three months of training that includes self defense, CPR and first aid, patrolling techniques and networking with community groups.
Fowler said the Guardian Angels “aren’t there to give the police problems. We have certain rules anybody [in the organization] has to abide by.”
Trainees will learn how to do physical restraints without hurting a suspect, he added. “You don’t have to be Mr. Billy Bad Butt, and you don’t need a certain type of background [such as military or law enforcement] to join us. I joined when I was 15.”
Fowler said that in some cases, “We will make a citizen’s arrest if necessary.”
Their method, he added, is, The Guardian Angels (who are known for their red berets) typically show a large presence on the streets, he added.
When asked about the potential for a Guardian Angel to get shot, Fowler said, “If you have the mentality that just because they have a gun—or a bazooka or a nuclear weapon—or they are in a gang, you can’t do anything, then you’re right, you can’t do anything. But the community has the power.”
He estimated the time commitment at about eight hours a week. “This is something you do in your free time.” When asked about the hours the Guardian Angels might be patrolling, he said it depends on the chapter, adding that in some cities the patrols don’t start until midnight, others have daytime patrols.
The Guardian Angels is a volunteer group, he added; members do not need to pay anything to join. Schulte said that the more people who sign up, the fewer hours everyone will have to work.
Lorrie Stromme, who lives in the Windom Park Neighborhood and works as an aide to First Ward City Council Member Paul Ostrow, attended the April 27 meeting. She said she was interested in hearing what the Guardian Angels had to say. “People are hopeful. The community wants to be empowered, to feel that they don’t have to be afraid.”
Rick Maas, of the Second Precinct’s Community Crime Prevention/SAFE team, did not attend the meeting at Columbia Grounds; he attended another| neighborhood meeting that night. He said he is somewhat leery of citizen patrols. “There are too many guns out there. It’s one thing to walk around the neighborhood with your dog and your kids [in the early evening] but skulking around at 11:30 p.m. and beyond, checking problem addresses, is something else. You run the risk of running into a situation you’re not ready to handle. You need a sense of caution.”
Maas said the number of aggravated assaults and robberies have risen this year throughout the city. “Those are the issues we’re trying to get a handle on.” And violence, he added, is also on the rise. “Kids are the ones who like to go the violent route. Older people want to take the stuff and get away.”
Year-to-date crime numbers in the 2nd Precinct (which covers Northeast and parts of Southeast, including the University of Minnesota), show that burglary is up 33 percent, from 199 in 2005 to 265 in 2006; larceny/robbery (typically property crimes against businesses) is up 39 percent, from 486 in 2005 to 675 in 2006; auto theft is up 19 percent, from 152 to 181; arson is down 14 percent, from 7 to 6; rape is up 25 percent, from 16 in 2005 to 20 this year. Aggravated assault is up 23 percent, from 62 last year to 76 so far this year. Robbery increased 45 percent, from 64 in 2005 to 93 in 2006.
Third Ward City Council Member Diane Hofstede, when asked about crime and safety in Northeast, said “It’s a big priority in the city, and with the Mayor’s office as well. We are looking at how we can work collaboratively with other departments and with the [Hennepin County] sheriff’s office, the University of Minnesota police, and security officers downtown and in other business areas. We want to implement community policing, which includes the neighborhoods being vigilant, and hiring more police staff.”
The city will implement a short term strategy for the summer, Hofstede added, which will be “very individualized to the wards and neighborhoods,” then a long-term strategy will be formed from that.
When asked what she thinks about the Guardian Angels, she said, “They were successful in the past and we can build on that, also the Northeast Citizen Patrol. We need a combination of different methods. I certainly believe citizens need to be comfortable in their own community.”
She said residents have called her, “articulating what they see as changes in the community.” The calls are “a good sign of an energized community. People are actively becoming involved and not thinking somebody else will do it.” Hofstede said recent statistics bear out the sense that there’s been an increase in more aggressive crimes. “I feel confident that we have a city council that is very engaged. I feel optimistic; this is a bump in the road, but we’re going to do this.”
The Northeast Citizen Patrol and the Guardian Angels can be contacted at 612-788-8790, online at www.NEpatrol.org, by email at email@example.com. Rick Maas’ phone number is 612-673-2797. Diane Hofstede’s phone number is 612-673-2003, Paul Ostrow’s number is 612-673-2001.