A community heroine in Stevens Square

Years ago, Becky Moyer camped out in a vacant second-level apartment building to track drug dealers. She walked up her Clinton Avenue South sidewalk and snapped photos of crack runners despite the threats they made to her life. She petitioned police to set up shop in a substation above the Third Avenue Market in the Stevens Square neighborhood. 

Moyer, now 64, is credited with being a major catalyst in the turnaround of what is known as the Clinton Avenue Sector of Stevens Square — the area southwest of the I-94 and 35W intersection. In September she was honored by the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct at a ceremony for residents who have impacted the community is positive way.  

Today, Moyer can look out from her front steps near the corner of the Clinton and 18th Street East and point out the sites of old crack houses and garbage dumps that have given way to new and remodeled condominiums.  

“Becky and the Clinton Avenue block club were very instrumental with police and probation in cleaning up that area,” said Dave Delvoye, the Stevens Square Community Organization’s safety coordinator. “The level of crime in that area has dropped substantially and significantly since then. People who come back to the neighborhood to visit after being gone for years don’t even recognize the area anymore.”

Many remember Moyer not for her own fight against crime, but rather that of her pet pig, Arnold. Arnold became famous in 2001 when he bit the leg of a robber who had entered Moyer’s home with what she believes was a gun. 

Arnold, deemed the “Crime-fighting Pig,” subsequently made a trip through the day-time talk show circuit, appeared in newspapers across the country and had his photo in People magazine and National Geographic. 

Arnold, a gift from Moyer’s long-time boyfriend Mike Sjoberg, died in 2005 much to her sadness. 

Since then, Moyer has suffered through an incurable form of cancer that populates her skin with sores and drains her energy. 

Moyer and Sjoberg moved to Stevens Square 15 years ago, when crack cocaine was rampant in the neighborhood. 

Crime in Stevens Square has decreased by 50 percent from 1999 to 2009. Annual incidents of theft and larceny, for example, have declined from 248 to 116. 

Annual narcotics arrests in the neighborhood have dropped from 333 in 2005 to 136 in 2009. Annual prostitution arrests have declined from 105 to 33. 

No one gives all the credit to Moyer and the block club. Delvoye said it’s been a mixture of a beefed up police presence and investment in the neighborhood via condos and business. 

But her community service record has played a major role, Delvoye said. 

“She’s an activist in a very positive way,” Delvoye said. “She’s not focused on how bad things might be. She is always focused on what we can do to bring people together to solve whatever problems we have. She’s this tremendous unifying force in the neighborhood.”

In 2000, neighbors of Stevens Square became worried about a problem corner at 19th Street East and 3rd Avenue South. Moyer led a group of volunteers who spent an entire week in a second-level apartment building with binoculars, tracking license plate numbers, watching prostitutes and witnessing drug deals go down. 

The group turned its information over to police and later that summer convinced the Minneapolis Police Department to open a substation above the Third Avenue Market. Arrests that year skyrocketed, and the neighborhood became so quiet, according to Delvoye, it was referred to as the “Ghost Town.”

“We said, ‘We live here. We have a choice. Either defend it or move,’” Moyer said. “And none of us wanted to move.”

Moyer said it wasn’t just homeowners that stepped up for the neighborhood. Longtime renters — some who lived in the same place for 30 years — also patrolled the neighborhood. 

“We would be out here and [drug runners] would be on bicycles and they would have bags over their heads so we wouldn’t see them,” she said. “They would threaten to kill us. We would be taking pictures and they would trying to get after us. It was like a war zone down here for a long time.”

For as hard as Moyer worked to bust the bad guys, she also dedicated herself to unifying the neighborhood. 

She has hosted many dinners for National Night Out, often serving 100 to 200 people.

Moyer, a Willmar native, brought in her family to help cook for the neighbors. She made burgers, brats and chicken. She even learned from a Somali woman how to cook goat in a Dutch oven so that she could also attract the Somali community to the dinners. 

Her best unifying tool, however, was Arnold and her other now-deceased pig, Axel. Neighbors, many of whom had never seen a farm animal, would come over to pet the pigs and get to know one another. 

“With Arnold and Axel here, I saw some soft spots in people,” Moyer said. “People, they really melted. Even the drug dealers became soft.”

For the waves of people who showed up at her home in anticipation of the annual National Night Out dinner this summer only to find out she wasn’t hosting it, there is no need to worry. Moyer said she’s ready to get back in action now that the house is almost done and she’s feeling better. 

“I can tell I’m better because I feel better inside,” she said. “So now I’m starting to get more involved.”