Instant justice for nuisance crimes?

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June 2, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: Robyn Repya
Robyn Repya

Minneapolis officials, frustrated by the ineffective prosecution of nuisance crimes such as graffiti, prostitution, public urination and drunkenness and disorderly conduct, are talking of a pilot night court modeled on a Philadelphia effort.

City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) said that when someone commits a nuisance crime such as public urination, police would haul him or her to \"Night Nuisance Court\" where a volunteer judge would immediately dismiss charges, levy a fine or issue an order for community service. Niziolek said nuisance criminals \"usually don\'t get consequences in our current system.\"

Niziolek, who chairs the council\'s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, said all of the crimes prosecuted in the nuisance court would be petty misdemeanors, which would forgo the legal necessity for a public defender or city attorney, thus saving the city time and money.

Niziolek\'s committee will discuss a possible Minneapolis program on Wednesday, June 11, 1:30 p.m. at City Hall, 350 S. 5th St., Room 317

He said that since Philadelphia inaugurated its system in 1996, police have used this method at major sports games such as Philadelphia Eagles football games; the in-stadium court is nicknamed \"Eagles Court.\" Niziolek said he\'s heard that the program has been very effective. \"They might be cleaning the stadium (as part of community service) before the game is even out,\" he said.

Despite Niziolek\'s enthusiasm, he said it would take a few more weeks of planning to get a Minneapolis pilot program going. The City Attorney\'s office and the Downtown Community Crime Prevention/SAFE team are working with Niziolek\'s committee to develop program cost estimates, a location for the pilot (Downtown is considered likely) and what crimes should be included. Niziolek said some crimes might require an ordinance or state statute change to be included, so more research has to be done, and any state changes will have to wait for the 2004 legislature.

A group of Minneapolis representatives will go to Philadelphia in mid-June to get more information on the nuisance court\'s workings.