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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

St. Paul policing program tackles quality-of-life crimes that helps prevent more serious crime

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Anonymous Pioneer Press said...

By Mara H. Gottfried
Updated: 07/21/2010 09:50:10 AM CDT

On St. Paul's Rice Street, it's the little things that count.

Drinking in public, panhandling and prostitution might not be a city's biggest crimes, but police say these quality-of-life crimes affect how people feel about their neighborhood. The theory: Tackling the small problems can prevent more serious crime.

Solutions include a Facebook page where apartment managers can share information on potential trouble, a Police Athletic League program to divert kids from spraying graffiti and repainting crosswalks to encourage foot traffic and slow vehicles.

A St. Paul police program, GRID, that focuses on working with the community to combat nuisance crimes and chronic offenders in the Rice Street area, has been around for a few years and evolves to deal with new problems.

The department has similar programs in other neighborhoods, and new St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith said he plans to expand them.

"They're kind of a holistic way to look at solving issues in our different neighborhoods," he said.

A similar program in the Eastern District is called CITE (Community Involvement Team Enforcement); the Western District's is called the Anti-Crime Unit.

GRID, which stands for Getting Residents Involved Daily, doesn't have a cookie-cutter approach to combating crime, said Sgt. Jeff Parsons, who oversees the four-officer team. At times, they take a traditional enforcement role — they write citations or give people warnings — but not always.
Officers see their work as "long-term problem-solving," Parsons said. A main priority is making connections in the neighborhood, and they meet regularly with local businesses and managers of apartment buildings. They want people to know them by their first names and have their cell-phone numbers handy, Parsons said.

"The more the police department can allow officers to stay in one place, getting to know the people in those places, the better off we are," said Tait Danielson-Castillo, District 7 Planning Council executive director.

Police and people involved in GRID say the program has reduced crime in the neighborhood, though the police department didn't have crime statistics readily available to measure the program's effectiveness.

A look at statistics for the most serious types of crime in the five GRID areas shows crime down 2 percent between 2009 and 2008, compared with a 1 percent decline for the city as a whole.

The grids were selected because they were the busiest for police in the Central District — they had the most calls for service and citizen complaints, Parsons said.

In the beginning, GRID "was more reactive," he said. "We'd see a problem in the stats and then address it." Police still work on "hot spots," Parsons said, but "it's evolved to being more proactive, with us going out and making contacts with people."

One strategy is focusing on crimes that might seem like small problems but appear to get under people's skin, he said. When GRID started, police sent surveys to residents, and "a lot of what we got back was about quality-of-life crimes," Parsons said.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Story continued said...

There's also a bigger reason to focus on these nuisance crimes, police say.

"When they don't get addressed, it starts escalating," said GRID officer Jody Larsen. "People think they'll never get caught."


Residents of Wheelock Parkway Apartments tell manager Ronna Woolery they feel safer these days.

"With GRID, we've been working to resolve things before they become problems," she said.

More than 25 apartment properties are in Grid 10, bounded by Larpenteur and Western avenues and Arlington Avenue and Rice Street, Larsen said. Woolery said she worked with GRID officers to start monthly meetings with apartment building owners and managers who didn't really know each other.

Representatives from eight properties started meeting about a year ago, but the meetings really have taken off in the past three months, Woolery said. She's trying to get more properties involved.

They've set up a Facebook page for apartment managers and GRID officers. It's not public, so they can interact without worrying about other people seeing it.

"Before, people could move from one building to another without anyone knowing what was going on," Larsen said.

At the urging of apartment managers, the St. Paul Police Athletic League is working with the GRID team to get kids who live in Grid 10 buildings to programming at McDonough Recreation Center.

Larsen arranged for a PAL van to pick up kids and take them to McDonough four times a week. At the beginning of the summer, eight children were participating; a recent count had it up to 36, Woolery said.

Last summer, there was graffiti, gang activity, vandalism and loitering in the area, Larsen said. This summer, it's "remarkably decreased," she said.

On a Thursday afternoon last month, Larsen approached a group waiting for the van.

"Hey, how are you guys?" she asked, chatting up the youngsters. She said later that she knew them on a first-name basis and vice versa. "I think it builds a trust factor," she said.

Nearby, apartment managers and owners started arriving for their monthly GRID meeting. A man and woman told Parsons about people loitering at a building, and the sergeant took notes.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous story conclusion said...

"If we find a building has more calls than it should, we sit down and figure out how to combat that problem instead of waiting for it to become a huge problem," Larsen said.

GRID officers also meet regularly with businesses in the lower Rice Street area. The GRID team helped establish a business association, and some 15 businesses have been getting together monthly, said Danielson-Castillo, District 7's executive director.

Business owners identified small matters to work on first, including having crosswalks repainted and getting more trash cans on the street — both of which the city did with prodding from the GRID team, District 7 and the businesses, Danielson-Castillo said.

Rice Street crosswalks near University Avenue were "faded to a point where they were very hard to see," he said. "On a minor level, it was people jaywalking, but on a major level it was people driving down Rice Street quickly and not stopping."


GRID officers pride themselves on finding suspects in a pinch because of their relationships with people in the neighborhood.

In January, after a spree of armed robberies in the Rice Street-University Avenue area, a man was shot and wounded during a holdup outside an apartment building at 195 Edmund Ave.

Parsons, the sergeant, said he already was acquainted with the building manager a block away at 175 Charles Ave. After the shooting, Parsons asked the manager if police could review surveillance video. He agreed, and police saw the robber leaving 175 Charles Ave., pulling a gun and heading to 195 Edmund Ave., Parsons said.

They had the video, but they didn't know the man, Parsons said. The manager "spent hours and hours with us, going through the video" from other cameras until they saw the same man enter the building shortly after the shooting, Parsons said.

The man had to use a key fob to get in, and it electronically registered with the building, giving police a name, Parsons said. Police spent the next couple days with the apartment manager "staking out the building and monitoring the camera system, waiting for an opportunity to take this guy into custody as safely as possible," Parsons said.

Police arrested the man, and he was sentenced in May to eight years in prison.

Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

"If we find a building has more calls than it should, we sit down and figure out how to combat that problem instead of waiting for it to become a huge problem," Larsen said.

My response;
IF, the rental property owner isn't part of the GRID group--> (my brothers keepers) will he be subject to a building code compliance to remedy the issue?

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point Bob.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah that's right Bob..........fuck the owner over because they are too chicken to go after the criminals because they need the "felon vote" to elect their elite Democrats.

4:16 PM  

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