Core cities wisely get proactive on summer youth violence

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 12, 2014 - 6:28 PM

Minneapolis, St. Paul get proactive on communitywide efforts.

For some kids, the end of a school year means warm weather months filled with camp, learning enrichment programs, summer jobs and family vacations.

But for others without the family means, information or wherewithal to fill up a summer calendar, the next three months can mean long days and nights of hanging out without anything constructive or educational to do. It’s those tweens and teens who are more likely to cause, get sucked in to or be victims of crime.

To get ahead of those looming potential problems, officials and community leaders in both Minneapolis and St. Paul studied their youth violence issues and used the information to create summer anti-violence programs. Some are continuations or expansions of previous efforts, but others take new approaches that hold promise.

Beginning Monday, for example, Minneapolis will sponsor “pop-up park’’ events every day throughout most of the summer in different locations across the city. About three-quarters of them will be held on the city’s North Side, where about one-third of the city’s violent crime and half of the city’s shootings have occurred over the past 14 years, according to police data.

Violent crime rose 24 percent last year in the area, due to increased assaults and robberies, and last month police reported seizing 190 guns in north Minneapolis so far this year, a 41 percent increase over last year.

To interrupt that activity, the temporary “parks,” which will run from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Sunday through eight weeks of summer, are intended to engage 12- to 17-year-olds in positive activity and to bring neighbors together. They’ll be held at parks that don’t already have programs, areas that are perceived as dangerous for kids, or on vacant lots or blocked-off streets where there are no nearby parks.

Minneapolis is believed to be the first city in the country to embrace the mobile park concept to reach older children and teens. Instead of expecting young people to go find something to do, the activities (and referrals to more longer-term summer activities) will come to them. Programming will vary from spot to spot, but could include sports activities, music, food and games.

The first event will be held Monday at Golden Valley Road and Penn Avenue N., and the word will be spread through social media other youth-oriented outlets. In an effort to build stronger relationships between police and kids this summer, Minneapolis will hold weekly dialogues between at-risk young people and law enforcement officers. Various law enforcement agencies also will collaborate to step up patrols, and more civilian community groups such as MAD DADS will be on the streets to talk with young people. The city also will continue some of its long-standing efforts such as the Step-Up summer jobs program as well as parks, recreation and school programming.

The plans mostly grew out of the city’s Blueprint for Action to Prevent Youth Violence and an early spring summit on North Side safety involving dozens of officials and community members.

Meanwhile, in St. Paul, city officials and grass-roots activists recently announced the expansion of a program that sends youth workers throughout the city to work with at-risk kids and teens. Nearly 30 ambassadors — some not much older than the targeted young people — will meet and talk with several hundred St. Paul kids at night and on weekends. The idea is to connect them with services that can help keep them out of trouble by avoiding gangs and other violent activity.

The city also will expand hours at seven recreation centers and add summer employment opportunities for at least 45 young people.

Last year, St. Paul had 735 serious crime incidents involving a juvenile suspect or arrest, down about half a percentage point from 2012. However, these incidents included the brutal beating of a man who was out for a walk on the city’s East Side when he was attacked by a group of young people.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman recently said a “360-degree approach” involving the entire community is needed to reach young people. And Police Chief Tom Smith said that programs like the youth ambassadors can help young people make positive, constructive choices. “ … We can help them defer from a life of crime by just showing them we care,’’ he said.

That sensibility — along with strategies to give better alternatives — is rightfully at the core of the approaches both Minneapolis and St. Paul are taking to try to prevent youth crime and violence as summer 2014 heats up.

  • WHY POP-UPS?

    “Our goals with pop-up parks are to provide pro-social activities for older kids, be a deterrent to crime during evening hours by getting people out of their houses and getting to know the neighbors and the kids … and help neighborhoods take back their own communities. Parks and other youth workers can also help connect youth with positive activities for the rest of the summer.’’

    SASHA COTTON, youth violence prevention coordinator, Minneapolis Department of Health, and co-chair of youth violence efforts with Mayor Betsy Hodges

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