Fighting crime in an industrial pocket of NE

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April 23, 2012
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch

When an entire neighborhood leaves town for the weekend, weird things happen. Drag racers take over the empty streets. Skateboarders commandeer parking lots. Graffiti abounds. 

With no homes in the Mid-City Industrial Neighborhood — the area roughly between I-35W, Johnson Street, East Hennepin Avenue and Industrial Boulevard — it is easy for crime to go unreported. In an effort to change that, five business representatives formed a new neighborhood organization in early 2010. The group is now about 30 strong, with a formal board, a newsletter and a neighborhood directory. 

“I’ve been here almost 17 years, and I never knew who did my job at the other businesses,” said Roger Saylor, project manager at Prospect Foundry, an iron casting foundry on Winter Street. “It’s been a great way to put faces with neighbors.”

Safety issues sparked the launch of the neighborhood group, but members are starting to think about long-term improvements like street lights, bike lanes and sidewalks. 

“The businesses generate a lot of tax revenue. There are pretty good-paying jobs within this area,” said Brian Aune, newly-elected president of the neighborhood group. Aune is security manager of J.J. Taylor Distributing, a beer and wine distributor on Industrial Boulevard. “We thought, ‘Wait a minute, we’re paying a lot of money to the city, and we don’t have any representation.’”

The organized group now enjoys face time with its City Council representative and the 2nd Precinct Inspector. New connections to City Hall are teaching the members about energy rebate programs and other potential boosts for business. Aune said he is already seeing progress in neighborhood safety.

“We need to watch out for each other,” he said. “When Friday night hits, the area kind of becomes a ghost town.”

Theft has been a problem.

“If you leave something on the street, it’s up for grabs,” said Erik Catt, owner of ETC Neon.

In addition, street racers cruise around the neighborhood after it empties. The drivers can often be spotted near Wendy’s, the Ramada Plaza hotel and Burger King, with people camping out for a while and then racing down Broadway and other deserted roads. Crime Prevention Specialist Nick Juarez said drag racers have been known to steal computer chips out of Hondas to beef up their vehicle system and fry them while racing. 

“There is a general awareness now of what some of the crime patterns are and things to do to help prevent it,” Aune said. “If we don’t think something is right and we have a funny feeling, we get the police involved. ...  Communication is one of the best things that has happened.”

Insp. Bryan Schafer said the Police Department is finally starting to net more 911 calls from the area.

“Until recently, that neighborhood had not reported crime to us,” he said. 

Police are working with businesses to collect any video surveillance they might capture of incidents in the area. Aune said some businesses are talking about splitting the cost of hiring extra security on weekends.

Saylor said his business has taken many of the police department’s recommendations to improve safety, and he’s borrowed ideas from his neighbors as well. The company recently added lighting, re-aimed security cameras, added a locked fence to the parking lot, and moved another fence to contain an employee entrance. 

“People were breaking in to steal change out of vending machines in the lunch room,” he said.

Catt said he isn’t involved with the neighborhood group, but he reads the newsletters.

“If this can do anything to help cut off any sort of crime or late-night prowling around, it’s all good for us,” Catt said.

The Mid-City Industrial Neighborhood Group meets on the last Tuesday of every-other month. Meeting information is available online through the Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce.

Christine Levens, chamber executive director, said the networking has been helpful for participants. A nonprofit in the neighborhood is getting new volunteers. A local caterer is getting new clients. 

“People are engaged and dedicated and supportive of one another,” said Levens, who facilitates the group funded by a business association assistance grant. 

“It’s a lovely pilot that continues to grow,” she said. “It’s working.”

Michelle Bruch can be reached at mbruch@mnpubs.com.