Kind cop brings ‘Kids, Bikes and Safety’ to Southwest

Those who know Minneapolis Police Lt. Marie Przynski say residents in Southwest's 5th Precinct are lucky to have her.

The 28-year law enforcement veteran moved from Northeast Minneapolis' 2nd Precinct to Southwest late last year, bringing with her a generous sense of service and concern for kids' safety.

Five years ago, while working in North Minneapolis, Przynski started a program called "Kids, Bikes and Safety." The program helps kids register their bikes, get a free license (normally $10), participate in helmet-fitting and a safety course.

This year, Przynski (pronounced Per-shin-ski), is bringing her program - and more - to Southwest, with two May 21 events: 10 a.m.-noon at Painter Park, 620 W. 34th St. and 2-4 p.m. at Armatage Park, 2500 W. 57th St.

Fifth Precinct Captain Kris Arneson said she's delighted by Przynski's efforts and is proud of her star cop - praising Przynski's after-hours, unpaid volunteer work here and elsewhere, plus her ability to speak a little Polish.

"It really shows her sense of service to the community. Lt. Przynski exemplifies service," Arneson said. "[The program] is a wonderful thing for the precinct."

Creating 'Kids, Bikes and Safety'

That wonderful thing began five years ago, Przynski said, when she was working in North Minneapolis' 4th Precinct, where there were a lot of bike-related problems involving kids.

"We had a number of accidents with youth and bicycles. We had a fatality," she said.

That year, there was also a high number of reported bicycle thefts. Przynski said of the 16,000 stolen bikes recovered by police that year, only 10 percent could be tracked to their owners and returned.

"We wanted to cut down accidents and create safety for the kids," she said.

At that first "Kids, Bikes and Safety" event five years ago, 70 kids showed up. Przynski wound up putting on six events that first year. The result, she said, was a drastic drop in the number of stolen bikes. There were also improved safety skills among riders. "We had no further accidents," she said proudly.

To fund the effort, Przynski solicits money from community groups, local businesses and dips into her own pocket. In addition, she does a lot of the grunt work herself, moving boxes, organizing events and getting people involved.

More than bike safety

Przynski's "Kids, Bikes and Safety" events have grown to become much more - a comprehensive grouping of kids' safety, educational programs and youth organizations. "It's kind of one-stop shopping for youth programs for kids," she said.

Events feature representatives from a Cops 'N' Kids reading program who will give out free books, Park Police safety camp officials who recruit summer campers, Police Athletic League members offering assorted sports for kids and cops, and workers from the City Kids ID program.

(City Kids ID photographs and collects kids' DNA and fingerprints, creating a packet for parents. They come to community events, churches and schools to perform this service. They also provide parents with child safety pointers.)

Przynski said kids can feast on donated hot dogs and juice. As part of the event this year, she's been able to buy two kids' bikes to be given away at each event. (In addition to the two in Southwest, she will stage four more on the North side.)

Roberta Englund, executive director of two North Minneapolis neighborhood groups and City Kids ID founder, has worked with Przynski for years. She said that because of Przynski's Southwest move, the North Minneapolis-based group is getting its first opportunity to work in this part of the city. "I'm delighted it's going to the south side," Englund said.

Park Police Sgt. Linda Bergstrom worked with Przynski years ago in North Minneapolis. Now, she's teaming up to help put on Przynski's park events. She said Park Police officers help run the obstacle course, do free bike maintenance for the kids, and recruit for the safety camp.

Gevonee Ford, executive director of the Network for the development of Children of African Descent's Cops 'N' Kids/Firefighters 'N' Kids Book Giving Program, also based in North Minneapolis, said his group will provide free books to children, from infants to 18-year-olds.

The group has a North Minneapolis office where they accept and distribute free books to kids. (See donation information below.) Books for the program are also collected at city fire stations, Ford said.

He said Przynski's program breaks down negative community perceptions of officers and brings police closer to children in a positive way. "Police officers are learning the kids' names," Ford said.

Inspiring service

Ford said Przynski - who is also a literacy trainer in her spare time for his group -is a great community servant. "She donates her time. She refused to accept any form of compensation," he said.

In addition to these volunteer efforts, Przynski, a Maplewood resident, is also active in Northeast Minneapolis' Polish community, helping out at the Polish American Cultural Institute of Minnesota.

Although she's very active in volunteering her time, Przynski is modest about her giving. "It keeps me out of trouble," she said with a chuckle.

(Yes, she has a day job and it's no cakewalk. Przynski coordinates the Curfew and Truancy Unit citywide and is the new sector lieutenant for more than half the 5th Precinct.)

In a more serious vein, she said, "I volunteer my own time because it's important to engage kids. I truly believe if we engage kids, we engage them to be successes later on."

Englund said Przynski is missed in North Minneapolis, but she's glad they're still partnering on projects like this one.

"You should be grateful to have her," she said.

How can you get involved?

To become a sponsor or volunteer in the program, or for more information about how to get involved, e-mail Przynski at marie.przynski@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.

For more information about programs mentioned in the story, visit:

  • NdCAD Cops 'N' Kids/ Firefighters 'N' Kids Book Giving Program, ndcad.org/book_distribution.html.

  • City Kids ID, 521-2100

  • Park Police Safety Camp, www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=620

  • Police Athletic League, www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/police/about/pal/