Problems persist at some Downtown bus stops despite increased patrols
Metro Transit and Minneapolis Police officers have stepped up patrols near problem bus stops on Hennepin Avenue and Nicollet Mall, but "nuisance" crime persists, leaving frequent riders and pedestrians frustrated.
Crime hotspots include bus stops near 8th Street & Hennepin and 7th & Nicollet, according to riders and police. The Warehouse District LRT Station is also on police radar after bar close.
The street corners often attract crowds of people who simply hang out. Others intimidate riders and passersby with aggressive panhandling and frequent swearing.
According to a list compiled by the 1st Police Precinct for July, 7th & Nicollet had 88 calls for police service -- the most Downtown (except for Hennepin County Medical Center, 701 Park Ave. S., which is not a crime site so much as where police go to get victim statements.)
The corner is home to City Center discount retailer Marshall's and across 7th Street by the Mary Tyler Moore statue, Marshall Field's.
Hennepin Avenue bus stops between 6th and 8th streets also rank high for police calls.
Combined, the three corners had 98 calls in July, according to the 1st Precinct.
In recent months, Metro Transit authorities and Minneapolis Police officers have teamed to patrol problem corners such as 7th & Nicollet.
Metro Transit Police Chief Jack Nelson said combining forces on frequent patrols appears to be working. "We assist each other in saturation patrols when there seems to be a lot of activity. I think it's gotten better," he said.
Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons said Transit Police have zeroed in on the LRT line along 5th Street to deter "nuisance" crime. Twelve officers are assigned to the entire line 22 hours a day, four to six officers per shift.
Overall, Metro Transit has 23 full-time officers and 135 part-time patrol officers.
The Warehouse District LRT station at 1st Avenue North receives extra police attention on the weekends.
Said Nelson, "The Warehouse District platform after bar close on the weekend nights is certainly a concern. For starters, we'd like to protect our property. It's quality-of-life issues. The people that go Downtown to have a good time are sometimes taken aback by some of the behavior demonstrated by people who are obviously under the influence of mood-altering chemicals. We want people to feel safe."
Two Metro Transit officers typically keep tabs on the 7th & Nicollet bus stop -- which Downtown beat cops also watch closely.
Metro Transit officer C.D. Gust said he believes the conditions on the corner are improving: "I hear a lot of positive comments from citizens who thank us for being here."
Yong Yu, who had operated a hotdog stand on the corner with her husband Sung since 1992, said she has noticed less street crime in recent weeks. The corner had a reputation for attracting drug dealers and people who loitered for hours outside of City Center.
Martha Mitaga, a rider from Brooklyn Park, echoed Yu, saying she felt safer at Downtown stops than at stops on Lake Street where drug dealers often approach her.
Merwyn Davis, a daily Downtown bus commuter, pointed to 8th & Hennepin as the new problem corner.
"It has to be the worst stop. It's become more of a hangout," Davis said before boarding.
Walk by the intersection day or night, and bus stops next to the advertising firm Carmichael Lynch, 800 Hennepin Ave. S., and Metro State, 730 Hennepin Ave. S., appear to be Downtown's busiest -- and, depending who you talk to, the most intimidating.
Metro State will occupy the 730 building until the end of the year and then move to the Minneapolis Community and Technical College campus at 1501 Hennepin Ave. S.
Design has encouraged problems. The stop in front of Metro State has a tinted bus shelter that police say drug dealers use as a shield. Liz Santiago said she typically avoids the stop while waiting for a bus there with her twin daughters, Nataly and Liz Valle.
Some riders dismiss the concerns. Darnell Wallace, who lives in North Minneapolis, said he hasn't noticed any trouble on the corner.
Carmichael Lynch CEO Lee Lynch, who owns 730-800 Hennepin Ave., said Metro Transit officers have been responsive when called about problems on the corner. The advertising firm also installed a video surveillance system that has helped officers nab drug dealers.
Overall, he said conditions have improved dramatically in the past decade. Still, Lynch would like to see some minor changes to cut crime, such as removing a bench near the Metro State shelter and a nearby pay phone.
"I think if something doesn't happen fairly soon, I will throw the bench in the back of a pickup truck and take a sledgehammer to the telephone to remove the problems," Lynch said.
He added that new Hennepin developments such as the upscale Chambers Hotel at 9th Street should improve things.
Other projects include a three-tiered tapas restaurant/bar and Latin nightclub slated for 7th & Hennepin at the Pantages Theater.
Metro Transit's Gibbons said he's frustrated by the perception of those who single out bus stops for attracting "nuisance" criminals to Downtown. During the bus strike last spring, several newspapers, including Skyway News, reported a dip in crime.
"It's not necessarily specific to shelters. It's things that happen on street corners, and there are bus shelters and bus stops at every street corner," he said. "It kind of irritates me when people say that there's drug dealing at 7th & Nicollet and somehow it's already related to the bus because there happens to be a bus stop there."