Groups petition for police officers

Thirteen of the 16 eastside neighborhood groups have signed the petition.

Kevin McCahill

A 1996 New York Times article described Minneapolis as “Murderapolis” after a violent summer of record murder rates.

Now, 10 years later, a movement has begun to make sure that nickname doesn’t return to the Twin Cities.

St. Anthony West Neighborhood Association President Michael Rainville has begun sending a petition to neighborhood associations throughout the city asking for support in trying to get city officials to put more officers on the streets.

He said 13 of the 16 eastside neighborhood groups have signed the petition he started a month ago and said the other three have verbally agreed.

“This is a good way for the community to show our desire for more police,” he said. “We are very upset… (Minneapolis Police) Chief (William McManus) pulled the officers out of the 2nd Ward and moved them to the north side.”

Because of that, according to Rainville, the crime rate in areas such as Marcy-Holmes has “exploded.”

He cited statistics showing that personal assault and theft have increased dramatically in student neighborhoods like Marcy-Holmes in recent years.

According to the Minneapolis Police Department Web site, between 2001 and 2005, annual incidents of theft rose from 293 to 447 in Marcy-Holmes, from 141 to 188 in Southeast Como, and from 182 to 318 in Prospect Park.

During that same period, annual incidents of assault increased from 26 to 43 in Marcy-Holmes, eight to nine in Southeast Como and decreased from 10 to nine in Prospect Park.

Rainville is asking the Minneapolis City Council to hire at least 150 more police officers; double what is currently being done.

Rainville met with council members Paul Ostrow, Diane Hofstede and Don Samuels to discuss the police officer issue Wednesday.

Hofstede said the meeting was a positive step toward helping keep the neighborhoods protected, though she stressed citizen vigilance as another important tool.

Rainville doesn’t believe the explanation given by city officials, who say there isn’t money for hiring.

“They aren’t squeezing every dollar from the budget they can,” he said. “There are ways to save money.”

City officials disagreed.

“We are doing the best that we can,” said Val Wurster, inspector for the Minneapolis Police Department’s 2nd Precinct. “The whole department needs more officers. But things are running smoothly with what we have.”

The 2nd Precinct has 73 officers, which is considered to be at full strength, she said.

Although a lower number than in past years, Wurster said that is typical of most cities.

“The entire police department has been cutting back staffing,” she said. “And the object is to get staffing back up. You just can’t raise the (police) presence in one area, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Although crime has increased in certain areas, Minneapolis is hiring more officers.

According to Minneapolis Deputy Chief Donald Harris, during summer 2005, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak announced the hiring of 71 new officers.

Thirteen of those officers graduated onto the force in December, meaning roughly 60 more officers are slated to be hired in the upcoming year.

That doesn’t include the officers hired to fill positions vacated by officers who leave the Minneapolis force at a rate of about two per month, Harris said.

Wurster said a recent increase in crime in the past few years can’t be blamed solely on police numbers. Rather, she said, a large population of inexperienced students moving in and out of rental buildings is a breeding ground for crime.

“In (Southeast) Como, it has a lot to do with being a target-rich environment,” she said.

Southeast Como neighborhood director James De Sota said they haven’t yet signed the petition, but mostly likely would if approached.

“It doesn’t seem like a bad idea,” he said. “The problem is everyone’s point of view is already known, so a petition won’t be shocking to anyone.”

De Sota said more officers are needed on the streets of the southeast neighborhoods. He said a new beat officer in Dinkytown is having a positive impact.

“An added officer makes such a difference,” he said.

But the 2nd Precinct has begun adding what Wurster described as “robbery details,” focusing on stopping petty theft.

“We’ve made significant inroads,” she said.

Rainville said he believes the lack of police presence near campus is because of it being a student neighborhood with residents who don’t have any political clout.

“Violence is being forced on students and nothing is being done about it,” he said. “Who knows how to work the political system? Not students.”

Rainville said he plans to collect all signatures by February or March and present them to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

He said he also would like to see students involved, though not all are concerned about the crime level.

“I think it’s fine,” said mechanical engineering sophomore Jon Mueller, who lives in Prospect Park. “I don’t think that I’m the target.”