Staying vigilant on crime

I still remember to this day the feeling I had three years ago at the funeral of Brian Cole, a star basketball player at North High getting ready for college, who was killed in Minneapolis at the hands of another young person. I stood at that funeral, one in a string of similar funerals that year, and watched as a line of Brian’s peers walked by. At that moment, filled with anguish and despair, I pledged to get to the bottom of what was driving youth violence in my city.

Over the past four years, we have invested millions of dollars into public safety, we have implemented cutting-edge strategies now being copied by other cities and we have rallied this community into action. In the process, we have broken up dozens of gangs, taken violent criminals off our streets, closed down problem properties that sucked police resources and injected crime prevention into the center of our public safety strategy.

Now, four years later, after an aggressive plan to fight crime head-on, I stand proud to report that crime in Minneapolis is not only falling for the third straight year, but is at the lowest level it’s been in nearly a decade. Violent crime midway through 2009 is the lowest in eight years and the city’s homicide rate is the lowest in 25 years. For the first time since 2001, none of the homicides in Minneapolis so far this year was a juvenile. Other types of violent crime — robbery and aggravated assaults — have seen double-digit percentage reductions every year for five straight years in a row. Even lower levels of “livability’ crimes are down more than 22 percent.

This incredible progress on reducing crime was no accident and it wasn’t easy. We got to this place because we made safety our top budget priority, we gave police the tools they needed to be more effective and we paired tough law enforcement with aggressive crime prevention. Working together, we made Minneapolis much safer — all in the middle of the worst economy since the Great Depression.

While we’ve made great progress to bring crime down, we must never be satisfied and we must never stop fighting to make Minneapolis safer. As long as there is any crime in our city, we need to be diligent. These are tough fiscal times, but we must continue our strategy to make the city safer with proactive, community-oriented policing and by involving the community more directly in our efforts.

The only way that we will keep crime falling in Minneapolis is if our residents and businesses become part of the solution. Everyone has a role to play because we need everyone to keep our public safety gains heading in the right direction. We need residents to join block clubs and work with our police officers to build neighborhood-based safety plans. We need businesses to do their part and partner with police to keep crime from gathering in any of our commercial corridors. We need community organizations to invest in programs that help struggling families keep our kids on track and out of harms way.

By working together, I know that we can continue to make this city and this region a safe place to call home. In the process, we can be a model for other cities plagued by crime, to show how a community pulls together in a time of need to take on big challenges. Thanks for being part of the solution; now let’s get back to work.

R.T. Rybak is mayor of Minneapolis.