A lesson I learned working in core-city neighborhoods is successful and sustainable community development depends on effectively addressing public safety concerns. The same is true for the downtown “community,” whether the focus is our thousands of residents (over 37,500 and counting), the tens of thousands of downtown workers, or hundreds of thousands of visitors hosted every year. Downtown Minneapolis must be, as a matter of fact and a matter of perception, a safe and secure place!
Fortunately recent results are in our favor. At the Downtown Council’s annual meeting we were able to report violent crime overall in the 122 blocks of the Downtown Improvement District (DID) is down 7 percent year over year, with robberies and assaults down 3 percent. A targeted prosecution program called the Downtown 100 resulted in an 84 percent reduction in crime by chronic offenders, the fourth year in a row of at least a 70 percent decline.
But as positive as these statistics are, in a very real sense one incident is one too many. Certainly that is the case for anyone who has a problem downtown. And as is true for some of the neighborhoods where I worked, no matter what the “facts” say about safety, when a situation does occur it can become magnified fueling negative perceptions all over again.
No downtown anywhere is or will ever be a “crime free” zone, but what are we doing in Minneapolis to reach for that ideal? A great deal, it turns out. Here are some highlights:
— A key public safety resource downtown is the DID Fusion Center operating at the 1st Police Precinct. The center is a technology rich information and communications hub, where an expanding network of cameras and programs like Bar Watch and RadioLINK provide crucial information to pinpoint troubles and target safety resources.
— The Minneapolis Police Department provides a constant law enforcement presence through programs like mounted and bike patrols, beat officers and use of Community Response Team operations to tackle hot spots downtown.
— During the summer, MPD personnel are joined by colleagues from the Hennepin County Sherriff’s Office and Metro Transit Police Department for the highly successful “Joint Beats” Program, which results in a significant presence of uniformed officers during especially active months.
— The Downtown Security Executive Group creates a forum for cooperation between public and private security efforts.
— Education and training programs are a constant for downtown employers, residents and other groups, covering topics like personal safety, cell phone security, how to respond to unwanted solicitation, and safe shopping tips.
Downtown is a place for everyone, and everyone who is downtown has a right to expect others will be respectful in their conduct. To help create this climate street outreach seeks to constructively engage young people and individuals without shelter or employment to help them connect with resources and find their place in the downtown we expect.
Because not everyone behaves as expected, coordinated initiatives focused on chronic offenders mobilize all parts of the criminal justice system, including prosecutors and probation officers, in an effort to keep negative influences out of downtown.
By the end of 2013, 560 organizations or individuals were registered as part of the SafeZONE Collaborative working in all of the areas described above and more toward a common goal of making downtown as safe and secure as possible. This is a journey, with new challenges and ideas about how to respond emerging all the time. But as a community, we are on task addressing this most critical priority.
Steve Cramer is CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District.