Searching for answers

Nearly 300 residents from Kingfield, Powderhorn, Central and other south Minneapolis neighborhoods packed the sanctuary at Park Avenue Methodist church at 34th Street and Park Avenue Monday night to talk safety with city leaders.

City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) organized the meeting after an outpouring of community concern about the death of Kingfield resident and father of four, Mark Loesch, 41.

Loesch left his Wentworth Avenue home on a late-night bike ride Sept. 12 and was found dead from blunt-force head impacts the next morning on the 3700 block of Elliot Ave. S.

Glidden, Mayor R.T. Rybak, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, 3rd Precinct Inspector Lucy Gerold, Homicide Unit Commander Lt. Amelia Huffman and Metro Gang Force Supervisor Sgt. Kelly O’Rourke were on the panel of individuals who spoke and fielded questions at the community meeting. Representatives from Men Against Destruction,
Defending Against Drugs and Social disorder (MAD DADS) were also on hand.

Discussion about what city leaders, police and community members are doing to address crime in general dominated the meeting, rather than a discussion about Loesch’s death specifically. Dolan and Huffman were quick to point out that the homicide was still under investigation and little about the incident was known including why Loesch ended up where he did and what the motive for the killing was. No suspects have been identified and no arrests have been made.

Dolan said what happened to Loesch defied reason.

“It doesn’t fit anything we’ve seen in this city this year or in years past,” he said.

Huffman said she was hopeful a recently offered reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case would bring out the people in the community who know what happened. Family and friends donated $5,000 to the reward fund and an organization called Crime Stoppers put forward an additional $1,000.

Huffman called Loesch’s death a mystery, but said the investigation is not “at lost ends.”

Inspector Gerold said officers in the 3rd Precinct have been proactive about battling assaults and gangs. The Bloods gang is active in the area, she said, and was found to be involved in four of five aggravated assaults using guns during the past few weeks since Labor Day. Whether Loesch’s death was gang-related is unknown.

Mayor Rybak said safety in Minneapolis remains his top priority and pledged that 18 more police officers would join the force next year. He also said four people would be added to take 911 calls and other resources would be focused on preventing youth violence, which he said is the number one driver of crime in the city.

Rybak said crime is down 14 percent from last year and homicides are down 24 percent. Tough enforcement is needed to keep the numbers trending that way, he said.

Residents applauded speakers at the meeting, but warm words weren’t enough for some longtime residents increasingly frustrated by criminal activity in their neighborhoods.

Darleen McPhersen, who lives near 42nd Street and Cedar Avenue, said her nephew was killed last October and though arrests were made quickly in that instance, she’s concerned that gangs are taking over her community.

“How in the world are we going to reclaim the neighborhood I’ve lived in for 55 years,” she asked the panel.

Sgt. O’Rourke of the gang task force didn’t have a straight answer for her, but said the task force was hard at work and “there will be results.”

Powderhorn Park resident Mark Ambroe said to the group that there seemed to be a lack of communication with other ethnic groups in the community such as Latinos and blacks. He was among several speakers who brought up concerns about relations between the city and its non-white residents.

“Where is the representation of those communities at a meeting like this,” Ambroe said looking out at the mostly white, middle-aged meeting attendees. “How are we mobilizing those folks so they don’t feel disenfranchised?”

Glidden said efforts were made to get people from different ethnic communities to attend the meeting, but those relationships need to be continually improved. A Spanish translator was at the meeting.

Dolan addressed concerns about police department diversity by saying the department was the most diverse in the state and more diverse than it has ever been. When asked about the importance of police interaction with the community, Dolan said he was a strong advocate of that and told attendees that it was still being done despite cuts in recent years of some police staff who facilitated those relationships.

The investigation into Loesch’s death is continuing with the “best of the best” working on the case, Huffman said. Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to call the police department’s tips line at 692-8477.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]