When I moved to Central Neighborhood in May, I knew that the area wasn’t known to be as “safe” as my old residence in Uptown. What I didn’t realize was how active my new neighborhood was going to be in creating community. Soon after I moved in with my roommate, we were copied on e-mails giving notices about block club meetings and socials, as well as sharing information about suspicious activity in the area.
Because of the efforts of actively engaged neighbors, Central is actually a very friendly place to live. Everyone says hello to everyone, and I simply can’t sit outside on my front steps without at least one person either walking up to introduce themselves or waving a friendly hello.
Statistically, Central does indeed have a lot more crime that ECCO, where I used to live. In July, the Minneapolis Police reported that Central had one rape, six robberies, three aggravated assaults, 24 burglaries, 14 larcenies, and two auto thefts. That’s compared to ECCO’s one robbery, five burglaries, 17 larcenies, and one auto theft in the same month. The Minneapolis Police Department website shows that the crime numbers vary from year to year, but as a whole the two neighborhoods’ crime rates have pretty much remained consistent for the past 10 years, with Central having about twice as many crimes as ECCO*
Jim Parsons from the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO), which was formed in 2004, said that there were three ways that CANDO works to make the neighborhood safer. The first is the Bicycle Patrol. Last year and this year, CANDO utilized $12,500 in Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) funding to pay for extra bike cops. Lt. Lee Edwards said that this year, some of that money was allocated for extra cop cars as opposed to bike cops, because while bike cops help build relationships between cops and residents, cop cars are better for chasing down criminals.
Another program that CANDO recently started is the Gun Violence Prevention program. Heather Martens, from Citizens for a Safer Minnesota (CSM), said that the program aims to engage the community and bringing adults and youth together through conflict resolution, peer mediation, and other steps such as a gun buy back program (the community decides together what they want to focus on). Run by contract through Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, the program is modeled after Project Cease Fire which has been tried in Boston and Chicago and other cities. The Gun Violence Prevention program has held one meeting and will hold three more by November.
CANDO also supports block club efforts through door-knocking, flyering, and small grants of up to $300. In Central, block club meetings often encompass several blocks. At a meeting I attended in June, neighbors had an opportunity to share food and meet each other and also hear a report from our local Crime Prevention Specialist Karen Notsch.
In a recent interview, Notsch said that the best crime prevention strategy neighborhoods have is what she calls “natural surveillance.” She encourages residents to keep an eye out for anything strange in the neighborhood. “You don’t have to organize a block club,” Notsch said, “You just have to get to know your neighbor.” Notsch has been working with the Minneapolis Police Department for 25 years, and she said that crime rates are like roller coasters – they go up and down. However, she said in recent years the city has beefed up efforts in other units such as inspections, licensing and public nuisance laws, which help keep the neighborhood safer.
Annie Rose, one of my neighbors, said that some of the things that her household does to prevent crime is to take an approach that deflects crime by “being there.” She said that when the house next to hers went into foreclosure, her family started parking their car in the empty lot so that the space couldn’t be used for drug deals or prostitution. They garden, grill, and enjoy outdoor activities at all hours so that they can keep an eye on the street and take some pride in their yard.
“I find that if people know that you’re there and that you belong there, and that you’re watching,” Rose said, “they tend to go elsewhere for discrepancies.” She’s called 911 on prostitutes and said that since she works until 4 a.m., she’s called on a lot of them.
Sierra Samuels, another neighbor and president of the board at CANDO, said she has lived in the neighborhood her whole life, and has raised her son here. She began volunteering for CANDO several years ago when there was a memorial service at her church, Park Avenue Methodist, following a murder in the area. She wanted to take a more active role in making the community safer.
Samuels said she’s been happy with the Bike Patrol program because it has allowed people to get to know the police in a positive way. She said that while some neighbors are concerned about the NRP funding for bike cops being used for more squad cars, in the end, the community decided that both squad cars and bikes would be beneficial.
Samuels said the block clubs have been extremely successful because they are a good way to get people out of their houses and into the neighborhood. “Today people don’t talk to their neighbors enough,” she said. “We are trying to get people to come out and say hello.”
* Thank you to Megan Goodmundson for pointing out a typo in this article as it was originally published.