Daniel Farias and his husband are fully vested in south Minneapolis as owners of property and two successful businesses. But rising drug, robbery and prostitution activity along Lake St. in the Phillips neighborhood forced the couple, along with a diverse group, to ensure that their concerns were voiced to police and the criminal justice system.
After much hard work, beat cops and police cameras were put in high-crime intersections, and a "Lake Street Court Watch" was developed for victims to let judges know the impact that crime had on their lives.
Farias, who owns MiBoleto Travel, Miguel Zagal, owner of Taqueria la Hacienda, and ZoeAna Martinez, an outreach worker for the Lake Street Council, were recently recognized for their community leadership by the Hennepin County attorney's office. Other winners included an unarmed police officer who tackled an armed suspect in New Hope City Hall, a nationally recognized expert in getting students back into school and a newly appointed state Supreme Court justice.
"We are very proud of these three fine folks who run successful businesses and give so much back to the community," County Attorney Mike Freeman said. "They help make Lake Street and the adjoining neighborhoods better places to live and work."
Martinez, who has worked with the Lake Street Council for a decade, said she started to hear concerns about safety from Latino business owners in the area. People loitering in front of storefronts prompted complaints from customers, she said.
Martinez and others rallied business owners to network and build relationships with staff in the police department's Third Precinct, Metro Transit police and the city and county attorneys' offices. This led to monthly meetings, the starting point for the designation of beat officers in the area, placement of police cameras at problem intersections and other strategies to reduce both nuisance and more serious crimes.
"We didn't really have an open dialogue with the Third Precinct before the meetings," Martinez said. "But they worked really hard, checking in and meeting with business owners and wanting to see change."
The meetings also created the Lake Street Court Watch, an opportunity for crime victims go before a judge and give an impact statement before a sentence is issued.
Farias, who also owns a weekly Spanish news publication, said the court watch was formed to follow up on cases and "let our voices be known."
"The courtrooms never get to hear the community side, only the sob stories of the criminals," he said. "Even if it's a smaller crime, it really hurts the neighborhood."
While the influence of new Latino businesses in the Phillips area played a role in reducing crime in the past two decades, Farias noticed a spike in prostitution, robbery and drug dealing the past two years. There were many chronic offenders going through the justice system and quickly landing back in the neighborhood, he said.
Catherine Johnson, the Third Precinct's new inspector, has been a strong advocate for cleaning up the area, Farias said. He said the group isn't just looking for a strategy "to arrest the problem away," but digging deeper to figure out what's causing the crime issues.
"We realize everything can't be solved overnight," Farias said. "But we shouldn't be condemned for it to be this way for the future."