Less SAFE? Fewer crime-prevention teams to cover neighborhoods

In response to proposed state budget cuts, the Minneapolis Police Department sliced its Community Crime Prevention/SAFE teams in 5th Precinct (Southwest) neighborhoods from five to three — meaning fewer civilian-officer teams covering 20 area neighborhoods.

SAFE teams serve in pairs of sworn officers and civilian crime prevention specialists (CPS) and are the primary contact for Southwest residents to the police department in responding to crime trends, assisting in block club training, providing business and home security checks and workshops and focusing on problem properties.

Citywide, 25 SAFE teams were reduced to 14.

SAFE remapping

The 5th Precinct’s Sector One covers everything north of Lake Street, including Cedar-Isles-Dean, Kenwood, East Isles, Lowry Hill, Lowry Hill East, Stevens Square-Loring Heights and Whittier neighborhoods. New 5th precinct SAFE Sgt. Barry Nelson said SAFE team Officer Karl Olson and former third precinct CPS Shun Tillman are assigned to Sector One.

Sector Two covers the area of Southwest south of Lake Street and north of 46th Street, including the West Calhoun, ECCO, CARAG, Lyndale, Linden Hills, East Harriet and Kingfield neighborhoods. Nelson said SAFE Officer Catherine Casey will serve Sector Two, with former SAFE supervisor Pat Behrend as CPS.

And Sector Three covers the area south of 46th Street to Richfield, including the Fulton, Lynnhurst, Tangletown, Armatage, Kenny and Windom neighborhoods. Nelson said SAFE Officer Jabra Kawas would serve that sector with CPS Jennifer Neale.

Spread too thin?

In some cases, the cuts have tripled a team’s coverage area. Lyndale resident Iaian St. James works with SAFE in his neighborhood through a block club and said the cuts will be too much to handle. "They’ll be so overworked that nothing is going to get addressed," he said.

John Baumann, CCP/SAFE operations manager, said because of the downsizing, focus on the little things, such as meeting attendance and the SAFE newsletter might falter, including a delay in response to resdents. "Everyone’s getting a district that’s bigger. You’re not going to be as fast to respond and make all the meetings," he said.

CPS Jennifer Nesemeier — one of 14 civilians given pink slips — covers the East Isles, Cedar-Isles-Dean, Lowry Hill, Lowry Hill East, Linden Hills, Kenwood and West Calhoun neighborhoods until May 30.

She said the remaining SAFE teams would have to restrict their resources and time based on priority, which may mean they attend fewer meetings and timely crime statistics would be less available. "It’s going to definitely increase the workload, and there’ll be a decrease in service," Nesemeier said.

Crime alerts and security checks won’t be eliminated, but new 5th Precinct SAFE supervisor Sgt. Barry Nelson said the SAFE teams will have less time to respond to them. "There’s going to be a lot more to the workload," he said. "There’s some addresses we’re not going to be able to investigate."

Nesemeier said one of the biggest challenges in Southwest would be the Whittier and Stevens Square-Loring Heights neighborhoods, because while the neighborhoods are organized, they have Southwest’s highest crime rate and have had one SAFE team’s sole attention before the cuts. Now, Whittier and Stevens Square will share a SAFE team with five other neighborhoods.

Sheila Rawski, another fired CPS, will serve the two neighborhoods until she is let go May 30. She said she’s had her hands full with these two difficult neighborhoods and is worried about the workload, since summer means rising crime rates. "These cuts won’t leave anyone untouched in one way or another," she said.

Nelson said a main focus within the changes to SAFE has to be letting residents know they have to be more proactive. "We’ll have to ask block leaders to do a little more," he said, adding they’ll rely on e-mail communication more, too.

Community participation

Dave Delvoye, safety coordinator for the Stevens Square Community Organization, works with SAFE on a weekly basis, whether door-knocking or patrolling the neighborhood. He said his group understands the reasons for the cuts, so they’re trying to step up their community involvement to supplement the loss.

This past year, Delvoye said the SSCO has seen more volunteers working on SAFE initiatives. He said it’s up to neighborhoods to work closely and actively with each other and the police department to maintain a safe neighborhood.

Another fired CPS, Audra Lea, covers the ECCO, CARAG and Lyndale neighborhoods until May 30. She said smaller issues such as party houses might get less attention in high-density neighborhoods with larger problems, so residents should get to know their neighbors to cut out SAFE as middle-men for problem-solving.

In addition to stepping up community efforts, Rawski said residents should focus on saving what’s left of SAFE for the next round of budget cuts in January.

Projections for 2004

Rawksi said within SAFE, there’s a fear that the city will axe SAFE completely in the next round of budget cuts. The city is expected to lose tens of millions more in state aid, and police is the costliest budget category.

Rawski said the SAFE program itself is undervalued by some department administrators.

Nelson confirmed these fears and said that within the department, many don’t understand exactly what SAFE does and therefore don’t respect it. "If you eliminate the rest of the SAFE unit, they’ll find out," he said. "(SAFE) takes a lot of pressure off the street officers, answering calls for complaints and service."