Public safety, drug enforcement

Brian Close

After flutes, singing and a drum circle, Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton gave the annual State of the City address Thursday at the Sheridan Global Arts and Communications School.
“The state of the city of Minneapolis is not just good, it is great and getting better,” she said.
Although Sayles Belton didn’t discuss the University or higher education in her address, after the speech she talked about its relationship with the city.
Belton’s No.1 priority for 1998 is public safety.
Announcing that all downtown precincts are fully staffed and working around the clock, she commended the city’s police force for its efforts.
She also announced the success of the Computer Optimized Deployment Focus On Results technology, a program that increases the ability of police to gather information, even through misdemeanor arrests.
As an example, Sayles Belton told of a recent arrest for simple misdemeanor marijuana charges that led to three search warrants, 11 arrests, 75 pounds of marijuana, three guns, and $13,000 cash.
And drug enforcement also remains one of the mayor’s top priorities.
Sayles Belton said that drugs fuel other crimes, and told of a two-step plan to reduce drug activity.
First, the city should model the methods of its homicide reduction program by having officers work across jurisdictions to target drug traffickers and crack houses, some of which continue to operate even after police are informed.
“We should be able to shut down these crack houses almost as soon as they are reported,” she said.
Secondly, Sayles Belton advocated changing the conditions that cause people to use drugs.
One of these is poverty, which she said has not been dealt with effectively.
“The failure on our part, the part of elected officials, to find answers, will come back to sit in our lap,” she said, mentioning the problems of homeless people sleeping in the park and prostitutes on Lake Street.
But she insisted that there is not an easy solution.
“We cannot police ourselves out of the conditions of poverty,” she said.
Other issues she mentioned were the economic development of downtown and commercial corridors.
Lake Street, Hiawatha Avenue, and Central Avenue need work, she said, but “Hennepin Avenue is alive and kicking,” she said.
In the area of unemployment, Sayles Belton encouraged the city to put money into cleaning up brownfields, the polluted parcels of land sprinkled around the city. Minneapolis has 800 acres of this unusable land.
This would encourage development in those areas, which may not have land left for business growth, she said.
The mayor also encouraged the development of light rail transit, especially in the Hiawatha Avenue corridor. Meetings for funding for this transit are taking place in local committees and in the Senate.
While Sayles Belton said these are important developments, she said the No. 1 project to work on is the completion of the Convention Center, which she said would create 4,000 jobs.
Tony Berg, an audience member, questioned the value of those jobs, however.
“Those jobs are in the hospitality sector, and are not high paying jobs,” he said.
Despite this criticism, he said he agreed with her priorities, although, “She promised everything but stronger shoelaces.”
City Council president Jackie Cherryhomes agreed the mayor had big dreams, but she said that was a good thing.
“I thought it was an excellent speech,” she said. “She gave us things we could act on.”
Paul Ratliff, a Minneapolis resident, also had praise for the address, and said the priorities, especially education, were right on track.
“She is very good at visualizing how she would like to see the city,” he said.
After the speech, the mayor said now that the city is not in conflict with the University about the steam plant, it is time to focus on forming a stronger relationship.
The city and the University differed on whether the University’s riverside steam plant should be renovated or moved. After numerous battles, the University is going ahead with renovation.
“We have to figure out ways the University and the city of Minneapolis can work together to solve some of the problems right at the U’s doorstep,” she said after the speech.
She added that the research done at the University should be applied towards problems in the city.
“We should be able to help each other,” she said.