BY STEPHANIE FOX
Jake Reber is a man on a mission, focused on a campaign to get his city government to come up with solutions to fight the rising crime rate in South Minneapolis.
Earlier this year, he started talking with his neighbors, hearing about their personal experiences with property crimes and long police response times when calls were made to report them.
This was a livability question, Reber said. “One of my neighbors has lived in her house for decades and the increasing crime has frightened her,” he said. He went on Nextdoor, a social networking platform connecting people in local communities, to express his concern. The response was overwhelming. He was not the only one who was alarmed.
Most of the crimes in South Minneapolis are property crimes such as car or garage break-ins and they are increasing in number. Crime rates are comparatively low compared to some areas but, according to the Minneapolis Police Department, in Reber’s Diamond Lake neighborhood alone, in 2019 through the end of October, there were 37 burglaries, an increase of more than 68 percent. Crimes in nearby areas are increasing as well.
Reber posted a question on Nextdoor to find out if anyone would be interested in attending a community meeting with their Ward 11 City Council Member Jeremy Schroeder, to voice their concerns. In an online vote, 174 people out of 194 responding voted yes.
“As a result, I reached out to some businesses in the area and they also voiced their concerns,” Reber said. “I found a venue that would accommodate 100 people. I then reached out to the 3rd Precinct crime prevention officer, who said she would be willing to attend a meeting with Schroeder.”
He then contacted Schroeder, he said, to schedule a meeting. “I left the dates open, asking only that it be a weekday evening or a Saturday morning, so that people who work would be able to attend,” he said. “Schroeder responded that he was very busy and didn’t have time to meet with us in our neighborhood. He said that he was willing to meet with a maximum of 20 people in his office in City Hall.”
“I work two blocks from his office, so it wouldn’t be an issue for me. Most people couldn’t easily make it downtown and is why I chose a venue in our neighborhood. I firmly believe that this is his way of not having to answer to a large audience,” Reber said.
Last July, Schroeder met with constituents at Nokomis East’s annual crime prevention meeting at the NENA offices in the Keewaydin neighborhood. “But,” said Reber, “he said he is too busy to meet with us.” Schroeder told him that it was typical for him to meet with constituents at City Hall instead of neighborhood locations, except for pre-scheduled listening sessions.
On Oct. 19, Schroeder held one of those listening sessions, an hour-long meeting at Sovereign Grounds, a local coffee shop. Usually only a few people show up, but this time it was standing room only, with more than 25 people crowding into a tiny back room. “It was a good turnout,” Schroeder said.
When asked about crime and police response times, Schroeder expressed his concerns about overworked police officers. But, he explained, he had no oversight on how the police spent their budget or how they address problems with criminal activity.
“I am pushing how to increase public safety and making sure that police are being efficient.” But, Schroeder said, his authority over the police department is limited. “For example, if public works wasn’t doing something right, like snow removal, the council could do a request for public action, asking them what the problem was and how they were going to fix it.”
“When we focus our concerns with the police, when issues happen and we ask why problems aren’t being addressed, what we get from them is, ‘We’re working on it.’ It’s something every other department has to justify in their budget but the police have a lot of leeway.”
At the meeting, Reber asked Schroeder if he knew how much property taxes would rise if Minneapolis hired 14 more police officers. Schroeder answered that he didn’t know. “It would be $10 per household,” Reber told him.
“He’s our councilman,” Reber said. “This is not a part-time job. He said he’s concerned with taxes, so he should know this.”
Wes Skoglund, who once represented South Minneapolis in the Minnesota State Legislature, suggested in a letter published in the Star Tribune that one way to discourage theft and to catch some of those responsible is to set out bait items with tracking devices.
“Right now, there is no way of tracking evidence,” he said. But small items like bikes, computers, cell phones, tools and golf clubs—unclaimed property from the city—could be equipped with GPS locators and placed where inexpensive wildlife cameras could record the theft, a way to prove that the person who is in possession of a stolen item actually took it.
“Video evidence could be collected after the fact. Baited MPD- owned items would eliminate the need to show that items are stolen. Video evidence bolsters the fact that those in possession are the actual thieves,” Skoglund said.
“San Francisco has a bait bike program. They are catching thieves and it’s working. Other cities are doing this and the programs are successful. They work and don’t cost much money.”
Skoglund sent a copy of his proposal to 3rd Precinct Commander Sean McGinty, who called it a great working theory but wanted to gather more information. “We have to make sure we are investing resources in the right direction, so that all the stakeholders, the city and county attorneys, are on the same page. We need to do this right, to make sure that it’s not going to be called entrapment,” he said.
“On the far south end of the city, at least from what I’ve been seeing, is that there is a rise in garage burglaries and residential larceny and thefts. About 50 percent are non-forced entry. I have four crime prevention specialists trying to spread the message to secure property and to make theft as difficult possible,” he said.
But McGinty agreed that more needed to be done. “Property crimes are rising in South Minneapolis,” he said. “This might not necessarily show up in crime statistics. Property crimes do not show up in the kind of violent crime statistics like murders or rapes, that the FBI tracks.”
But, he said, the city is also facing problems that can lead to this kind of crime. “We have a population of unsheltered people and are fighting an opioid problem. There are more desperate people than ever out there,” he said.
“I have a good group of cops and we are trying to get in to patrol the neighborhoods. If I had 25 more cops, I could look for different ways to deploy them.”
Skoglund said that he suspects that the violent crimes occurring downtown and in the Near Northside that keep police officers busy help fuel the rise of property crimes in the city’s Southside. “The burglars know the police are busy elsewhere,” he said.
Doug Berdie, a marketing and social research expert, wrote an article for the Star Tribune on the recent changes in local city government, saying that a scientifically representative survey with rating questions “would give city leadership insights into which proposed solutions are most palatable to citizens. Instead, the process that has been used exploits the citizenry by using the ‘Meeting-in-a-Box’ technique to obtain some great ideas city leaders can then cherry-pick to suit their own agenda.”
Reber agreed. “One reason Jeremy doesn’t have time to attend the meeting is because he was too busy in this budget season. But, since my request, he had time to hold his annual fundraiser. People I have talked to in person and on social media strongly believe he has his own agenda, and that agenda comes before his community concerns. We need to hold him accountable for his actions.”
Meanwhile, the heated discussion continues online, on Nextdoor, with more than a hundred comments on crime and the lack of response from the city representatives so far. Council Member Schroder’s next scheduled meetings are from noon until 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Washburn Library and Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Nokomis Library.