Repeat offenders

Updated: July 18, 2008 – 10:50 am

A new initiative proposed by the city and county attorney’s offices calls for tracking Downtown’s top 100 chronic offenders 

When it comes to low-level crime Downtown, the same names crop up over and over again.

One 33-year-old man has been arrested Downtown at least 50 times in the past three years, frequently on Nicollet Mall, and arrested at least 70 times citywide in three years. His citations range from consuming alcohol on the street to aggressive solicitation, disorderly conduct, trespassing, and possession of drug paraphernalia and shoplifting gear.

 

That’s an extreme case, but the city sought residents’ help in prosecuting more than 150 chronic offenders Downtown in 2007.

Chronic offenders would get more scrutiny in a pilot program proposed by the city of Minneapolis’ and Hennepin County Attorney’s offices called The Downtown 100. The initiative calls for more staff to prosecute and track the top 100 chronic offenders here. The pilot program would cost a proposed $326,000 to pay for a community probation officer, two full-time paralegals, and two full-time prosecutors — all focused on low-level Downtown crimes.

Small-time criminals generally don’t have probation officers.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said a Downtown probation officer is his first priority for funding. Current limited resources mean that probation officers are only assigned to felony-level or violent offenders, said Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal, along with some classes of prostitution or domestic violence offenders.

1st Precinct Community Attorney Lois Conroy said she once prosecuted a defendant who secured a home and a job and lived quietly for a long stretch of time. But he recently reappeared with five new cases, and Conroy learned that he had lost his apartment because the building went into foreclosure. Close monitoring of the offender and help with new housing might have made the difference in his recidivism, Conroy said, and she is meeting with St. Stephen’s outreach workers regarding his case.

Another aspect of the initiative would establish a Downtown Court Watch. The Court Watch would enlist people to plug into the court system and keep an eye on chronic offenders. The Court Watch program has proven successful in Southeast Minneapolis, Freeman said. Police substation walls are plastered with photos of people who are restricted from the area. Several neighborhoods also have “clean sheets” online with mug shots of people to watch for.

The Downtown 100 catchphrase might have people recalling “The Downtown 33.” The Downtown 33 refers to a 2005 study of 33 chronic offenders that were found to have cost government agencies nearly $4 million over the course of 20 years, racking up bills through the criminal justice system, detox, homeless shelters, housing subsidies, and treatment for mental health or chemical dependency.

A more recent study in March 2007 found that over a five-year period, 266 offenders spent an average of one out of every seven days in a county-funded facility, costing Hennepin County more than $4.2 million.

The cost of chronic offenses shrinks down to a local level
as well.

Nicole Gilliand of Brownstones Downtown in Elliot Park said tenants have moved out of her buildings because they are nervous about walking alone. It costs $350 to clean, paint and fix up vacated apartments, and a month or two of continued vacancy reaches over $1,000 in lost revenue, she said. When someone mentions safety as a reason to leave, she tallies up the dollar amount of economic impact and she can e-mail the city a community impact statement that judges take into account while sentencing. A Court Watch program would help funnel more community impact statements to judges.

The Downtown 100 also calls for more special police operations like last year’s “Operation Clean Downtown,” which dealt with street-level narcotics activity. First Precinct Insp. Janeé Harteau said undercover officers partnered with the Minnesota Gang Strike Force and talked to prosecutors ahead of time about the photographic evidence they would need to prosecute the narcotics offenses.

City prosecutors that handled nearly 28,000 misdemeanor cases last year said they would appreciate extra help in compiling criminal histories on the major repeat offenders. A “vertical” prosecution strategy would also allow attorneys to follow chronic offenders each time they come back to court. Today, prosecutors are assigned to defendants based on the calendar, and they take whatever cases come up that day. With the new strategy, a prosecutor would take a defendant’s case each time he or she reappears to help give the criminal justice system a bit more consistency. Conroy said a recent defendant she prosecuted had seen a couple of public defenders, a couple of different judges, and four different probation and parole officers over the course of a year and a half.

Luther Krueger, crime prevention specialist for the 1st Precinct, told Loring Park residents in June that aggressive prosecution efforts don’t necessarily call for harsher sentences because some chronic offenders bounce in and out of prison to little effect.

“But if they’re forced to get effective treatment, maybe that’s going to work,” he said.

Another option for sentencing is a geographic restriction from the area where they have committed crimes. Geographic restrictions are designed to give relief to the neighborhood and block an offender from accessing their regular drug or alcohol supplies.

“You can’t really have geographic restrictions unless you have somebody to enforce it,” Freeman said.

Freeman has asked for Downtown 100 funding from Target Corp. and the Downtown Council, which is the Central Business District’s advocacy group. Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC) has already pledged $5,000 for the initiative.

“If all five [Downtown] neighborhoods kick in a little money, that could go a long way,” said Jana Metge, CLPC executive coordinator.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said the Downtown 100 is the next step for the Downtown SafeZone initiative, which installed surveillance cameras throughout Downtown and launched a collaboration with other agencies to get more officers on the street.

“It began with a larger police presence on the street, but it became clear that we were consistently arresting more and more of the same people,” Rybak said. “Overall, Downtown crime is down significantly and livability on the street is improved, but we want to go further with this. … This is a comprehensive response to the frustration many citizens and I had when we recognized that even increasing our arrests and police presence wouldn’t be enough.”

 

Reach Michelle Bruch