SAFE Zone got safer, but did Downtown?


This summer, the city, Hennepin County and Downtown business leaders put more cops on the street in response to what one business representative called a “crisis situation” with crime in Downtown’s core and entertainment districts.

From Apr. 18 through Oct. 1, the Minneapolis Safe Zone Collaborative seems to have had an impact – violent crime rates fell in the zone, while increasing citywide, according to a final Hennepin County report last month. (Property crime rates were slightly higher in the Safe Zone, which covers from 2nd Avenue North to Marquette Avenue between Washington Avenue and 12th Street.)

The document also cites “anecdotal evidence” showing that people felt safer Downtown this summer.

This week, Downtown Journal compares Safe Zone, Downtown and citywide crime rates, and the Safe Zone Collaborative’s continuation now that its extra foot soldiers are gone.

Next week, a look behind the crime stats at who is committing Downtown crimes – repeat offenders, the report shows. They are largely poor black males with histories of homelessness, chemical dependency, mental health issues and/or dependence upon public assistance. The report suggests that the criminal justice and other government systems are not solving the problems.

In the zone
Between Apr. 18 and Oct. 1 this year, Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers, Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies and Metro Transit Police – as many as 22 officers at peak times – walked the beat together.

(Some also hung out in multijurisdictional groups of up to a half-dozen along Hennepin Avenue, prompting one Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association board member to make the rare complaint of too many cops on the street.)

Overall, the Collaborative added 14,184 hours of overtime patrols – 6,693 hours from the MPD and 5,904 hours from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.

The Safe Zone Collaborative did not cut overall crime, compared to the same 20-week period of 2004 (Apr. 17-Sept. 7), but it slowed the minimal rate of increase compared to citywide numbers. Perhaps most importantly, violent crime numbers fell by nearly 20 percent.

Reported Part One crimes – the most serious violent and property crimes – increased 1 percent in the Safe Zone area. That’s lower than the 7 percent increase citywide during the same period.

Looking only at violent crime such as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, the year-to-year number fell 18 percent in the Safe Zone, compared to a jump of 19 percent citywide. Robberies – which 1st Precinct Inspector Rob Allen called “the bellwether crime for how effectively you’re patrolling your streets” – declined by 46 percent in the Safe Zone.

Property crimes such as motor vehicle theft, burglary, larceny and arson increased 7 percent in the Safe Zone – higher than the 4 percent increase citywide.

The report also broke down lower level “livability” crimes – gauged not by reported incidents but by police contact.

Between Apr. 17 and Aug. 30, police were involved in 2,671 cases of suspected criminal activity. The outcomes break down like this:

– Half received a warning;

– 28 percent were given fines;

– 14 percent were arrested; and

– 8 percent went to detox, a curfew or truancy center, or the hospital.

The most common low-level offenses were:

– Outstanding warrant (33 percent)

– Public consumption (23 percent)

– Drugs or possession of drug paraphernalia (13 percent for both)

– Minor assault (10 percent)

– Disorderly conduct (8 percent)

Driving crime elsewhere?
Allen said the Safe Zone Collaborative might have pushed crime to other parts of the 1st Precinct, which covers Downtown south of the Mississippi River plus Cedar-Riverside.

“Any time you have an aggressive anticrime [initiative], there’s a risk of displacement,” Allen said – especially to less-trafficked areas.

For example, robberies, almost halved in the Safe Zone, are up 15 percent in the 1st Precinct through Oct. 31 this year. Aggravated assaults, which rose 9 percent in the Safe Zone from April to September, are up 25 percent in the 1st Precinct from January through October.

(Allen notes that the Cedar-Riverside area accounts for 10-20 percent of 1st Precinct crime.)

By Oct. 31, the entire 1st Precinct had seen a 14 percent increase in Part One crimes compared to 2004. Averaged over the past three years, the 1st Precinct has seen only a 3 percent increase. Only the 3rd Precinct has better one- and three-year numbers.

Business in the mix
The $700,000 for the Safe Zone Collaborative came from the city ($336,548), Hennepin County ($200,000) and the Downtown business community ($178,989). The latter included $100,000 from the Greater Minneapolis Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and $70,000 from the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

Kent Warden, BOMA’s executive director, said his members believe they “got pretty good mileage” out of their contribution.

“We did what we needed to do because the need wasn’t going to be met any other way,” he said.

However, the business community shouldn’t be expected to contribute every year, Warden added. “We’re all paying significant property taxes for basic services,” he said. “Police and security are [some] of the most basic.”

To maintain this summer’s level of security, Warden says the city must dedicate funding, with possible contributions from the county and Metro Transit.

He added, “$700,000 is a relatively small part of the city’s public safety budget. Hopefully, they can devote some more resources”- preferably year-round.

Both mayoral candidates have pledged to put more officers on the street, if elected. The Nov. 8 election will show which one will get the chance to keep his promise and – if he does – how he will pay for it.

The beat goes on
While the initiative’s most visible component is gone with the depleted funds, other aspects remain, such as Safe Zone cameras and Downtown’s contingent of security guards.

Said Allen, “We have yet to have a case with a camera that the person hasn’t either plead guilty or been convicted.”

Police have also involved Downtown’s private security guards, who, Allen said, outnumber cops anywhere from 13-1 to 30-1. (Likewise, private security cameras outnumber the city’s.)

Security guards are trained to look for and respond to criminal activity. A beefed-up trespass law allows property owners to “trespass” problem characters from the premises for a full year (it was 30 days until this August). Security officers currently rent 30 radios from the city that link them together and to police via a common radio channel. A private security Web site allows businesses and buildings to share information.

Both Allen and Warden said that private security collaboration is slowly expanding to outside the Safe Zone. The East Downtown Council (EDC), which covers Downtown near the Metrodome and Elliot Park, met with police this summer about the security collaborative. Allen notes that EDC member Hennepin County Medical Center, 701 Park Ave., is actively participating.

In the future, private, nonuniform “ambassadors” might walk with radios on Downtown streets as an information and “marketing” source, Warden said – and as extra “eyes on the street.”

Does this privatization of public safety pose problems in terms of discrimination? Asked if private security might abuse or misuse power, Warden said the greater challenge has been to get security guards to look beyond the front door. Allen said that private businesses face the potential for lawsuits if their security personnel use the trespass ordinance discriminately, for example. “That’s why we do the training,” he said.

The fact remains that a disproportionate amount of offenders are low-income minorities. Allen said the phenomena goes both ways – while poverty may lead some to crime, a criminal history can make it harder to get a job or apartment.

“The reality is that there are underlying problems with these folks that need to be addressed,” Allen said. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t arrest them when they’re doing illegal behaviors.”