As Minneapolis crime rates drop, its citizen guardians remain vigilant

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March 26, 2012
By: Jeff Hargaten//Murphy News Service
Jeff Hargaten//Murphy News Service

Vigilant citizen guardians in the Minneapolis are smelling victory and continue to fight for safer streets and neighborhoods as the city’s crime rates plummets.

Violent crime in Minneapolis dropped by 6.3 percent to its lowest level in 30 years in 2011, police department statistics reveal. City officials credited increased police presence. Violent crimes such as murder, homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault also declined, and crime rates have fallen 42 percent since 2005.

And as those crime stats decline, the residents, neighborhood watch groups and vigilante organizations continue to patrol for even safer streets.

“This is obviously good for everybody,” said Andrea Christenson, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association Board and longtime Minneapolis resident.

Residents and neighborhood watch groups have kept their eyes and ears open, leaving their porch lights on and communicating with the police to do their part in driving down neighborhood crime, she said. The association’s crime and safety committee also meets regularly with the police department to work for safer Minneapolis streets.

“Everyone is really, really pleased” with the lower crime rates, she said, underscoring the importance of proactively contacting the police when disturbances arise.

Christenson also credited the Downtown Improvement District, a non-profit organization started in 2009 and funded by commercial property fees. The DID’s neon green-adorned ambassadors patrol more than 120 blocks of downtown, reporting problems to the police and cleaning the streets.

Some citizens go even further in their fight for safer streets. The Guardian Angels are a volunteer organization that patrols communities nationwide for criminal activity. There are more than 140 different chapters worldwide, including an active Minneapolis branch.

Another citizen crusader goes by the nickname “Geist,” a Rochester native and part of the Real Life Super Hero movement. As a member of the Great Lakes Alliance, he makes regular journeys to Minneapolis with his team for nighttime patrols.

I'm pleased to hear of lower crime stats in 2011,” he said, though would never “dream of taking an ounce of credit for it.” Geist credited the police, average citizens and watch groups for reporting problems to the authorities.

“I don't think the job will ever be done in Minneapolis,” he said. “There's always going to be work to be done there.”

He said during a recent Minneapolis patrol, the Great Lakes Alliance reported an “obvious” drug drop-off point to the police. Members of his team also work to erase gang graffiti whenever they find it. The team also focuses on humanitarian and community charity projects.

Geist said average citizens are becoming more important to community safety and lower crime rates. While they don’t condone others donning costumes and taking to the streets, they do hope people will look out for one another’s neighborhoods more.

“In the coming year of 2012, as our Minnesota contingent of the Great Lakes Alliance is slowly growing in number, in Minneapolis we hope to be more visible, more frequent, more effective and even more darned likeable,” he said.

Razorhawk,” one of Geist’s teammates, said he intends to increase his charity work this year, while finishing certifications so he can better respond to natural disasters and search-and-rescue situations, while being “more proactive on looking into crime prevention.”

Police attribute the crime rate drop to several reasons, including improved technology such as cameras and GPS systems in squad cars. However, there’s a human factor as well.

“Citizen engagement is paramount to fighting crime,” said Stephen McCarty, spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department.  

Citizens need to be “good witnesses,” he said, and can help by securing their homes and watching out for fellow neighbors.

“We as police can’t do it alone,” he said. “As a result, the community is extremely important in this effort.”  

Jeff Hargarten is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota.