Downtown Voices

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November 24, 2003 // UPDATED 11:07 am - April 30, 2007
By: Sam Grabarski
Sam Grabarski

'Yes, Virginia, Downtown is safe for Santa' Positive steps in the wake of a wake-up call on crime

People have coined some new words on the Internet. DISCONFECT is to sterilize the piece of candy you dropped on the floor by blowing on it to remove the germs. PEPPIER is the waiter in a restaurant whose only purpose is to ask diners if they want ground pepper. LACTOMANGULATION is to so badly manhandle the "open here" spout on a milk carton that you have to resort to the other side.

CRIMENESIA is the affliction wherein people forget about the rise in crime around them as soon as the media asks about it. A year of worsening street behavior Downtown was hard to miss, so comments like "it isn't that bad" must involve temporary memory loss. The problem with admitting a problem is the black eye Downtown's reputation suffers. Since a lack of perfection was reported in the media, our computer screens came alive with personal stories about harassment, robberies or drug dealing by increasingly aggressive punks, panhandlers or drug dealers. Most often, people feel safe here for good reason. But 10 years of vitality-building can be swept away by a flash flood if you don't notice the rain.

JUDICRASTINATION is a state of mind wherein judges complain about quality-of-life crimes only when they themselves feel threatened by them. Since the tragic shooting at Hennepin County Government Center, a committee was appointed to study safety issues there (I'm a member). At the first public meeting, sheriff's deputies reported a trend towards increasing violence on the plazas around the facility. Weapons detection equipment is likely needed. However, the Government Center is a key artery in the skyway system. In April 2004, this will serve as the immediate skyway access point for light rail passengers. "Welcome to Minneapolis, let us search you for weapons" cannot become the motto in that lobby.

A thoughtful Juvenile Court judge testified about a collective feeling of unease about safety in Government Center and the neighborhood around it. This could be a moment of resonance we've longed for because the business community doesn't think the courts take

quality-of-life crimes seriously enough. A new internal study by the courts reveals that among 1,517 recent livability-offense cases involving repeat offenders, 13.8 percent were "continued for dismissal" (no further action necessary if the behavior isn't repeated) and 33.7 percent were dismissed of all charges. Repeat offenders found guilty receive little or no escalating consequences for their actions.

Several business-sector task forces were formed recently to identify first and longer steps to restore Downtown's sense of safety. Without prompting, more police began appearing on our streets. However, other tactical ideas are emerging. Cities in other states allow the business community to obtain no-trespass relief from the most chronic unsociables. "Blue Light" pylons (used successfully on many college campuses across the nation) could allow citizens a one-button notification of distress to police, while also activating cameras and a flashing blue light. A common radio communications channel could identify and track bad behavior instead of moving it from one building to another.

Metro Transit knows we think they are part of the solution, if not part of the problem. No police force is more thinly spread than theirs, with a handful of officers to maintain order in a metrowide system. Thankfully, their best two beat cops are now assigned to Downtown, and we're told they made 25 drug arrests on their first day. Some national transit experts caution that unless any drugs-and-transit connection is addressed immediately, even light-rail systems can become unintended distribution systems.

PUPKUS is the moist residue left on a window after a dog presses its nose to it. SQUABBLEAN is a disagreement over whether to feed the pigeons or not. GOODGOBBLEDYCOOK is my Thanksgiving wish to you and yours.

Sam Grabarski is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, a group of business leaders.