Minneapolis homeless shelter pledges to improve security

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 25, 2008 - 8:12 PM

"I think there was some progress made," Mary Jo Copeland said after meeting with city officials about crime at her homeless center.

The dispute between Minneapolis officials and Caring and Sharing Hands appeared closer to resolution Friday after a meeting on the need to curb drug dealing and other issues at the downtown homeless shelter.

"I was happy I came here. I think there was some progress made," said Mary Jo Copeland after a two-hour meeting. City officials agreed that they don't plan to hold up the restaurant license needed for the facility's meals program.

City licensing officials summoned Mary Jo and Richard Copeland, who run the facility on N. 7th Street, to a licensing conference after documenting eight incidents of drug use or sales and seven more of other criminal activity on the property in the past year.

Mary Jo Copeland said she thinks the city now better understands the facility's security procedures. City officials agreed, but said they want better documentation of those plans, better sharing of information with police, and improved monitoring of security cameras.

"We're going to need some relentless follow-through on both sides," said Inspector Janee Harteau of the downtown police precinct.

Ricardo Cervantes, deputy director of licenses and consumer services, said the city plans to visit the center next week to look at security procedures. He said a revamped security plan will be reviewed in two weeks.

The city early this month used its licensing leverage to summon the Copelands, saying that they failed to take corrective action over the past three years on widespread drug dealing inside and outside the facility and loitering that it called intimidating and sometimes violent. It said neighboring businesses complained of criminal activity, and the facility lacked a successful security plan.

Mary Jo Copeland responded by accusing the city of trying to get rid of the N. 7th Street homeless population in time for the opening of the Twins ballpark nearby. She complained that the city hadn't come by to view security procedures.

Licensing officials had amassed a five-page dossier of drug and other violations at and near Sharing and Caring Hands before the meeting.

One example of repeated drug violations came three months ago when an undercover informant purchased crack cocaine from a man sitting next to a security guard in the facility's cafe, according to police, who arrested the dealer. Police made an undercover buy there in recent days, according to Cervantes.

The Copelands had said that they employ three security guards and use security cameras to help police their facility. But the city said those efforts are insufficient.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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