A Holiday station on the outskirts of Minneapolis had few reasons to dial 911 last year. Yet it received an extraordinary amount of attention from Minneapolis police.
Officers visited the gas station at 1301 Industrial Blvd. more than 2,000 times in 2017, according to city dispatch records. Sometimes they showed up 10 times in one day. It wasn’t to fuel up, which police do at a city facility, and rarely to respond to a crime. Officers logged about 1,800 of those visits as a “business check.”
As a community relations effort, the department began tracking how often its officers checked in on local businesses several years ago. It has since heralded how “positive contacts” like business checks have risen.
But the local council member and a former chief who launched the program said the frequency of checks at the Holiday station raised questions about what officers were achieving there. When alerted by the Star Tribune about the number of those checks, the inspector in charge of the Second Precinct said it was too many and asked officers to start “spreading it out more.”
“When I talk about our community outreach efforts … it’s not focused at a Holiday gas station on the periphery of the precinct,” Inspector Todd Loining said in an interview. “I’m talking about all businesses in this precinct I want officers to stop by.”
Through a public records request, the Star Tribune acquired and analyzed a database with 400,000 records of dispatches in Minneapolis in 2017. Business checks were the second-most common incident type in the system, which tracks both 911 calls and officer-initiated actions. Many of the top locations were gas stations, though missing addresses or location names in some records makes precise counts difficult.
The Holiday off Interstate 35W, surrounded by manufacturing and warehouse buildings in the Mid-City Industrial neighborhood, had hundreds more business checks than any other location in the city. They were most common at night.
Loining said one reason officers visit there as often as they do is to deter street racing, which has been a problem in that area. But there were still too many checks, he said.
“I didn’t realize it was that many until it was brought to my attention,” Loining said. He said officers walking the beat and checking on businesses is an important method of increasing public safety in his precinct, and officers should know details like closing times to offer extra support.
Police spokesman John Elder added that two other factors would draw visits to the Holiday: Officers are concerned about robberies at 24-hour businesses so close to freeway ramps, and the Holiday’s border location makes it an easy place to share information with officers from other jurisdictions.
The high number of visits raised questions for former police Chief Janeé Harteau, who oversaw the implementation of the “positive contact” tracking. She said it is difficult to judge in hindsight whether this location warranted this level of attention — particularly because 24-hour businesses attract distinct crime problems — but the extent of the checks makes her suspicious.
“I wanted [officers] out of their cars, on foot, on the beat, connecting with people,” Harteau said. “But … are you really doing something, or are you just ‘padding your stats’ as people call it? So those are questions that I would ask.”
On a typical night, police cruisers regularly roll in and out of the parking lot of the busy Holiday station. Four MPD vehicles arrived within an hour one recent evening. Most officers appeared to pop in for a pit stop and a beverage, though some lingered for 10 minutes or more.
In addition to the business checks, dispatch records show roughly 200 “foot beat” and “directed patrol” visits at that location — other positive contact activities. There were just over 50 entries for other reasons, including disturbance, suspicious person and suspicious vehicle. There were three reports of a holdup alarm — one was false and another was logged as “all OK” — a robbery call, and two reports of “hot-rodders.”
A manager at the store declined to speak with a reporter, referring questions to Holiday’s corporate office.
“[T]he site you mention is one of Holiday’s highest volume stores and is a popular place for police to meet and grab a bite,” said Lisa Koenig, North America communications director for Couche-Tard, Holiday’s parent company, in an e-mail. “As always, we welcome all members of the Minneapolis police department at our Holiday locations across the city.”
Gas stations are generally a common location for the business checks, the records show. Other hot spots include a Holiday on 25th Street and Hennepin Avenue, a Holiday behind Target Field, and a Holiday on Nicollet Avenue and Diamond Lake Road. Police also frequently visited the Ramp A parking ramp downtown.
Elder said gas stations are high-traffic businesses where officers can glean valuable information from staff, as well as convenient places for a pit stop.
Council Member Kevin Reich, who represents the area, said the Industrial Boulevard station is in an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” location.
“Which kind of raises the question: If you’re hanging out at a place and creating relationships, to what extent is there diminishing returns?” Reich said.
He said his constituents are happy to see police visiting another gas station at Monroe Street and Lowry Avenue, which is near a school. At the Industrial Boulevard Holiday, though, he said police have less visibility.
Aside from the problem of street racing, “it’s not a high-need area,” Reich said.