Minneapolis' 'blueprint' to attack youth violence is a success

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN
  • Star Tribune
  • October 3, 2008 - 11:21 PM

When a politician hails an initiative as a "blueprint" for change, it often fails to deliver any substantial results. This doesn't appear to be the case with Minneapolis' blueprint to prevent youth violence, which started in January.

Gathering outside the city's new juvenile supervision center Friday, Mayor R.T. Rybak and a dozen community leaders presented a progress report on the comprehensive plan. Some of the successes they discussed were simpler to achieve, such as recruiting 25 city employees to serve as mentors for area youth, or expanding summer hours and programming at parks where crime is a problem.

But then there were the 1,074 home visits by nurses to help pregnant teens and young parents remain in school or Shiloh Baptist Church on the city's north side seeking to engage every family in a 40-block radius in two targeted neighborhoods.

Juvenile crime statistics show the plan is working. Two years ago, people 10 to 24 years old were responsible for nearly half the violent crime in Minneapolis. This year, it's decreased to 25 percent. But the nine youth murdered in 2008 is one more than the previous year.

The city's strategy to attack juvenile crime as a public health issue is getting national attention. The U.S. Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities will incorporate the plan into its national crime agendas.

"I have never seen so many groups come together for one purpose," said Kelvin Quarles, general manager of community radio station KMOJ.

Rybak orchestrated the effort more than two years ago, when juveniles were the reason for a soaring increase in the city's violent crime. He has earmarked nearly $8 million in his 2009 budget for the plan, a significant bump from last year. When he talks about the plan, Rybak often preaches the lofty goal of never having another juvenile murdered in his city.

"This is about life and death of our next generation," he said.

Rybak said tangible progress has been made on all of the blueprint's 34 recommendations developed by a diverse committee after months and months of meetings, interviews and testimony from residents.

The plan falls under four broad goals that range from connecting every youth with a trust adult to having teens unlearn the culture of violence.

The U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged the plan's viability by awarding the city a $200,000 grant to hire a gang prevention coordinator to bring existing gang strategies and groups together and identify youth at high risk for gang involvement. City leaders are working with a national health institute to develop what will become a mandatory sexuality education for middle-school students.

Teresa Rankin was one of 65 parents who participated in the blueprint plan's Project Murua, a "boot camp" for black parents. She said the skills she learned have made the task of raising her 16-year-old son as a single mom less overwhelming.

The blueprint deals with how to stop the cycle of repeat school expulsions, develop a new risk assessment instrument to reduce the number of youths placed in detention and hiring a mental health worker at two high schools with large Hispanic enrollments.

An instrumental part of the plan was the establishment of the supervision center, a one-stop shop where officers bring juveniles that in the past would have gone straight to the detention center. Slightly more than 1,500 youths were seen at the center, and 950 of them received community services not available under the old system.

Several officials at the news conference raised concern over the recent spike in violence in the Somali community. V.J. Smith of MAD DADS, a group that works the streets to help youth in trouble, said he would share strategies with Somali leaders. Police Chief Tim Dolan and others said they are increasing their Somali outreach programs.

But Shukri Adan, who works with six different Somali organizations, said she doesn't want the recent murders of two young Somali men to overshadow the accomplishments of the Somali community.

"Like any other immigrant group, this is part of the growing pains," she said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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