At just under 300 square feet, the police substation planned for the Hawthorn Crossings strip mall is more of a glorified cubicle, a quiet space for cops to catch their breath — and catch up on paperwork.
If it has any effect on the crime typical to north Minneapolis’ W. Broadway corridor, well, that’s a bonus, said new Fourth Precinct Inspector Aaron Biard. He sees the proposed station mainly as a place for officers to go to write reports, do research and access criminal databases without having to return to precinct headquarters on Plymouth Avenue about a mile southwest.
“No. 1, it gets us out of the station and up in parts of the community when officers stop to do reports,” Biard said about the substation, which needs final approval from the city. “We’re more visible up there, there’s a place for them to do reports, park their squad car, push the drug dealing out of the area, particularly the gang that operates out of there.”
The added police presence should also help improve response times, Biard said.
At a community meeting last week, the inspector assured concerned residents that plans for the substation “have been finalized.”
“It’s not going to fix everything, but it’s certainly going to help a little bit,” he told the 120 people crammed into a room at the Webber Community Center.
Local developer Sherman Associates has agreed to donate the space for the office, and will pick up the roughly $10,000 bill for building out the 280-square-foot facility, next to the Giant Wash laundromat, a company spokeswoman confirmed. The space will be furnished with desks and computers by the department.
Several residents at the meeting said they hoped the station would deter the crime that had plagued the area — the result of an escalating gang feud.
One woman grumbled about the would-be troublemakers who hang out near her business, several blocks east of Hawthorn Crossings, driving away customers. Another pointed out that Hawthorn Crossings was the scene of a murder last summer, in which a young man was gunned down in broad daylight as shoppers ducked for cover.
Since then, there have been more shootings nearby, with less lethal results, but the woman said she still worried about stray gunfire on what is the North Side’s main commercial corridor. Last week, a 19-year-old man was wounded in a shooting near the strip mall, police said.
In recent months, police say they have flooded the area with undercover officers and stationed a mobile camera in the Hawthorn Crossings parking lot as a deterrent to thefts, drug-dealing and nuisance crimes.
For years, rival gang factions — made of smaller, loosely organized crews, who have taken to calling themselves the “High End” and “Low End” — have looked on Broadway as the dividing line between their territories.
“They kind of joined forces and they became bigger and the battle takes place right along Broadway,” Biard’s predecessor Mike Kjos, now the assistant chief, said at the same meeting.
Biard said that he’s already secured support from other residents and business owners in the community.
The department currently maintains five precinct houses and six substations across the city. A substation at the corner of Lowry and Emerson avenues has since closed. A department spokesman said Thursday that the proposal for the new station is awaiting Kjos’ approval.
But not everyone is sold on the idea.
Roxxanne O’Brien, a neighborhood activist, said that adding more police isn’t the answer, so long as the root causes of crime — poverty, discrimination and educational deprivation — go ignored.
“So occupying more spots in the neighborhood is not going to work,” O’Brien said. “Where’s the proof that they need it, where are the statistics that prove that more police are needed for that spot?”
The tension between police and the community was underscored by a recent episode at Hawthorn Crossings, she said.
A yoga session in the parking lot last month, part of what O’Brien called a campaign to reclaim public spaces as safe environments, was interrupted when a heated argument broke out with a group of nearby officers. A video of the confrontation later made the rounds on social media.
But City Council President Barb Johnson says that more officers patrolling Broadway are needed to address the violence.
“I guess if people practicing yoga can deflect bullets, then we can talk about that,” said Johnson, whose ward covers part of north Minneapolis.
Still, she said she is unsure of what kind of impact the station can have.
“It is a presence, and the question of how effective a presence is kind of unknown,” she said. “There’s a lot of police presence on West Broadway, but it doesn’t seem to be deterring people from shooting each other.”