Sheriffs, transit cops and security guards work with city police to fight Downtown crime.

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May 2, 2005 // UPDATED 1:54 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Scott Russell and Jeremy Stratton
Scott Russell and Jeremy Stratton

Facing tight budgets and rising Downtown crime, the Minneapolis Police Department is launching the new "Safe Zone" initiative to beef up patrols and make Downtown safer.

In a separate move, the Department announced the creation of a new 70-person rapid response team called STOP, or Strategic Tactical Operations. It will tackle the city's crime hot spots by shifting more precinct police officers to where the trouble is.

STOP will go to the city's worst crime areas, but police expect the unit will spend much of its time on the city's troubled North side. Meanwhile, Safe Zone willhelp Downtown.

Though at either end of the economic spectrum, the beleaguered North side and high-profile Downtown are getting theirs. However, some City Councilmembers, notably those in lower crime areas, say the focused emphasis means less attention to their lower-priority livability crimes - and may, in the long run, hurt policing citywide.

In a nutshell

Safe Zone creates a joint command between city Police, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and the Metro Transit Police, and pumps up Downtown staffing during crime-prone evening hours.

In addition, the Minneapolis Police are working with Downtown's private security forces to improve public safety. Projects underway include a common radio channel and Web site to flag emerging problems.

It arrives as the STOP strike force has removed officers from Downtown.

Deputy Chief Sharon Lubinski said STOP's patrol team includes 20 officers from the citywide traffic unit and 15 from the K-9 unit. A bigger chunk - 32 officers and sergeants from various city precincts and the water works - includes five from Downtown's 1st Precinct.

Lubinski said the city had to act after the North side's 4th Precinct has had a 43 percent increase in shootings, stabbings and serious domestics so far this year.

However, Downtown has also seen violent crime increase this year, according to police statistics.

As of April 25, aggravated assault has increased by 47 percent (62 to 91) compared to the same period last year. Rape has increased 19 percent (from 16 to 19), and robbery has risen 14 percent (80 to 91).

Safe Zone will cost $700,000 and the city is kicking in $400,000 of one-time money left after underspending 2004 department budgets.

The new Safe Zone patrols will concentrate on the Central Business District - especially the area around South 7th and 8th streets and Hennepin Avenue South and Nicollet Mall, said 1st Precinct Inspector Rob Allen. This year, that area has seen an increase in theft, especially shoplifting, and robberies and assaults.

Allen attributed the crime spike in part to an apparent marijuana turf battle. Many victims have been drug buyers. Other victims are people walking alone, intoxicated or physically disabled, targeted by groups of youths, Allen said.

Joint command

Minneapolis Police, County Sheriffs and Transit Police have worked together before, but never on such a formal basis, Lubinski said.

Patrols might include officers from any of the three departments. They each bring their own expertise.

For instance, Bill Chandler of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, said deputies who work the jail or who serve warrants would work the Safe Zone patrols. They are used to dealing with chronic offenders and recognize them, even if the offenders are not from Minneapolis.

Capt. David Indrehus of Metro Transit Police said if his officers find someone committing a crime at bus stop or transit stations, they could cite them for trespass. Those cited have to stay away from all transit areas for 30 days. If they walk into a shelter or get on a bus, they can be arrested, Indrehus said.

Allen said before the Safe Zone patrols began in mid-April, police had 11 Downtown robberies in one week, "As soon as we put these cops on, we got nothing, it just dried up," he said. "It's early to judge, but it seems to be having quite an impact."

Weekend patrols may soar

The 1st Precinct has a total of 77 cops, including Community Response Team (CRT) officers and precinct investigators.

A regular midnight Saturday patrol is likely to have 20 cops answering 911 calls precinct-wide - including Hennepin County Medical Center, 701 Park Ave., which needs two full-time officers itself, Allen said.

Depending on the day and time, Safe Zone could add between two and 18 officers to Downtown's core, Allen said.

Safe Zone cops do not answer 911 calls. "These guys are looking at specific target areas, identified through crime mapping, intelligence reports and complaints from the community," he said.

The evening's events will also affect staffing decisions, Allen said. Police will have a presence at entertainment sites, parking lots and common travel routes.

Apart from Safe Zone, Downtown will benefit from an additional 14 "summer beat" officers on Friday and Saturday between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., beginning the weekend before Memorial Day and continuing through September.

Between Safe Zone and summer beat patrols, Downtown could have 32 additional officers patrolling on a weekend evening - well more than double the current 20.

As in the past, the Department shifts investigators from the forgery, narcotics, sex crimes, homicide and other divisions to fill the summer beat shifts.

Deputy Chief Tim Dolan said investigators who walk a beat work a day less in their unit.

"There is a price to pay," Dolan said."It stretches investigations thin duringthe summer."

A conservative estimate of Downtown summer beat salaries and benefits costs is $180,000.

Strength in numbers

Allen said Downtown has 25 to 30 times more security guards than police officers.

The 1st Precinct leadership has met regularly for several months with Downtown security staff to discuss better working relations.

Daniel Scoggins, a security supervisor for American Express Financial Advisors, attends the meetings of the Downtown Minneapolis Security Collaborative. He has worked security for 15 years. This is the biggest overture he has seen from police, he said.

Scoggins chairs the group's common channel radio committee. Carl Sorenson, public safety manager for St. Thomas University, chairs the training committee.

Police and private security have done joint Downtown patrols for seven weeks, Allen said. They were averaging 132 business contacts a week, 38 misdemeanor arrests, five felony arrests, five detox responses and two curfew violations.

One item the group is looking at is some kind of a "brand" - possibly a badge or a patch - that Sheriff's deputies, Metro Transit Police and private security would wear. "Something showing people this is all the same team," Allen said.

"It is an organic process here," Allen said. "One of the things we are asking: What else does private industry want out of this collaborative?"

As part of the collaborative, some Downtown property owners offered lists of 157 repeat offenders to the Sheriff's Office to review for outstanding warrants.

At the April meeting, the Sheriff's Office's Chandler reported that of the 128 unduplicated names, only 13 (10 percent) had outstanding warrants, including four for felonies. Another 25 were on probation, and one was on parole.

Safe Zone's last leg is the Downtown Council's Ambassador Program. Rob Allen described it as private security in visible red or yellow jackets who would be extra eyes on the street, calling in problems on a police-channel radio. It is not up and running yet.

What about the cameras?

The Safe Zone cameras installed in 2004 have had some notable successes.

At the March meeting of the Downtown Security Collaborative, police showed a video clip where Safe Zone cameras tracked a purse-snatcher on North 4th Street, just east of the 1st Precinct Command.

A police monitor followed the fleeing snatcher on successive cameras until police arrested the suspect, 1 minute and 7 seconds later.

So why is Downtown crime up if the camerasare effective?

Lubinski said she didn't know.

"Hopefully, over time, people will realize that you are on camera and they will be arrested and they will be convicted," she said. "It might take a matter of time before the full effect is known."

Other parts of the city

As Safe Zone helps Downtown and STOP helps the North side, others fret about the STOP reorganization.

Councilmember Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) said it is good to have a flexible force to deploy to trouble spots.

"I have concerns that if we focus exclusively on one part of the city, like the North side, it will push the crime directly back to the South side," he said.

Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), chair of the Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee who lives in Southwest Minneapolis, said police staff was already stretched thin.

"One of the top priorities I have heard from my constituents is making our streets more livable," he said, noting the loss of citywide traffic enforcement unit. "The STOP initiative is not doing that. In fact, it is making the streets less livable."

While the Police Department touts STOP as getting ahead of crime problems, Niziolek says precinct staff cuts undermine the long-term relations between community and police. "How is it proactive if in fact you are only sending them to the hotspots?" he asked. "It, by nature, means you are reacting to crime."

Lubinski said individual precincts still had the ability to do traffic enforcement. STOP would focus on community building by attending Cinco de Mayo and Juneteenth events, she said.

She said the city's Police Department doesn't have many options left to respond to a crime wave. The department needed to put resources where they are most needed.

Lubinski defended the decision to concentrate the former citywide traffic unit on the North side. They are finding guns during traffic stops, she said: "I would suggest in other parts of the city they wouldn't find as many guns."