I would like to address Carter Averbeck’s “Zone of Concern” commentary (Sept. 24) on increasing crime and decreasing livability in the downtown neighborhood.
My family moved downtown three years ago from the suburbs. My wife and I work downtown and we wanted the vibrancy, culture, diversity and entertainment of downtown living. And we haven’t looked back.
Downtown is exciting, with dozens of great restaurants, scores of musical venues, great cultural institutions, wonderful theaters, great sports, fabulous events, and beautiful walking and biking areas second to none anywhere in the U.S. Nowhere else can you walk to the Mississippi River, cross a 130-year-old stone bridge, see the best theater outside of New York, enjoy readings by local and nationally known writers, experience innumerable street festivals, and attend pro football, baseball and basketball games all without ever having to get in a car.
Our youngest son happily adapted to downtown life. He got a job as a busboy at a local restaurant while he attended DeLaSalle High School, worked out at a nearby gym, used Nice Ride bikes to get everywhere, and at a moment’s notice would grab a friend and head to a Twins game. He became a sophisticated urban young man who will be comfortable living in large cities throughout his life.
Last Sunday’s commentary, however, raised legitimate issues. Crime on Hennepin Avenue is up. Shootings, robberies, assaults and general mayhem have all increased, and local officials have done little to resolve these problems. All we hear from the City Council and the mayor’s office are trite platitudes — more federal gun control, more money for shelters, more programs for disadvantaged youth and more police bashing.
Local officials best demonstrated their laissez-faire attitude toward downtown by repealing ordinances that stopped people from blocking the sidewalks and lurking all hours of the night. They have allowed Hennepin to become a perpetual hang-out spot; a place where spitting, foul language and fighting seem to be accepted.
But all is not lost. New leaders after this election should consider three relatively inexpensive and quick actions that could help decrease crime on Hennepin Avenue:
First, bring back the misdemeanor crime of blocking sidewalks. Tickets for violating that law were rare, but it’s a useful tool to break up unruly crowds. It gave the police a legitimate reason to go into a large crowd of people who were blocking pedestrians from walking on the sidewalk and order them to disperse. It helped control bad behavior.
Second, groups of police officers should patrol Hennepin from Washington Avenue to 10th Street every night from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The First Precinct, which patrols downtown, hasn’t had an increase in officers for over 20 years. It’s time to fully staff our downtown police force and use it to protect the innocent people who use Hennepin Avenue.
Lastly, make at least some of the many street cameras that already exist on Hennepin open to the public. We have dozens of street cameras operated by the Downtown Improvement District and Minneapolis Police Department on and in the vicinity of Hennepin Avenue, but the public cannot watch the footage. Most major cities, including New York, Chicago, London and Paris, allow the public to access most street cameras via the internet. In fact, even the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) allows the public to go online and view traffic on our interstates.
We need that access to Hennepin Avenue to give real-time information to the public. We would be able to see what is happening and how hard the police work to combat chaos on the streets. We will not have to wait for some government body to release street footage after a crime; we would already have it from the public cameras. This would bring necessary transparency to the whole problem.
Most downtown residents are fully committed to our neighborhood and work to make it a safe and wonderful place to live, work and play. There is nothing we can do to bring back Macy’s or other stores, but we can bring back safety. All we need is a little help from our political leaders. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.
Joe Tamburino is chair of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association.