Three hours before Philando Castile was shot to death by a trigger-happy and trained-to-shoot-young-black-men-and-ask-questions-later St. Anthony police officer, Lesa Hudak sat for an interview with the Southwest Journal and three other members of the Kingfield Citizen Patrol of South Minneapolis.
“My son thinks we’re superheroes,” said Hudak, huddled with her fellow KCPers Sabra Waldfogel, Sharon Hagford and Marge Stoic at Studio 2, the radical wine, coffee, food and music bistro in East Harriet. “When I leave the house he says, ‘Mommy’s going to save the neighborhood. Mommy’s going to fight crime.’”
True enough. Every Wednesday morning for an hour or two, the women and a few of their partners in crime-fighting meet to walk and survey the neighborhood they love and call home.
“It’s something I feel passionately about,” said Hudak, a board member of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association. “It’s about getting out and getting to know our neighbors and just ideally creating that presence that would put a damper on crime in the area.”
“We look to see if there’s things in the neighborhood that could cause people to commit crimes, like garage doors left open,” said Hagford. “We look for graffiti, and Lesa takes pictures of it and sends it downtown and they take care of that.”
“We use the 311 app to report broken windows and things like that that are concerning,” said Hudak.
“It’s good exercise. We’re all in the same book club at Kings (Wine Bar). People take notice of us with our bright green vests, and now we started picking up garbage, too,” said Stoic. “We wear gloves and carry bags and pick up garbage as we walk.”
The Kingfield Citizen Patrol is one of several citizen patrols around the city, members of which volunteer their time to patrol their neighborhoods. They don’t carry any weapons, which would be a problem against a terrorist strike, but their peaceful presence alone is disarming and inspiring, so much so that the cop shop itself works with and encourages patrols, testifying: “The Minneapolis Police Department believes that citizen patrols can be an appropriate extension of a block club. Having pairs of residents walking around the block at various times makes their watch force more visible. This is a more effective deterrent to crime. Patrollers create a positive, watchful presence.”
This was supposed to be a column on a group of women who love their neighborhood so much that once a week they walk together for a few hours and make the neighborhood safe and feel like they’re spreading light in a dark world. But in the wake of everything that’s happened in the last week, what’s happened and what keeps happening, it says here that the Kingfield Citizen Patrol represents something elemental about the human condition, neighborhoods, civilizations, how to get along, and the basics of public safety.
“We’re looking for things that might be wrong with the neighborhood, but we’re also seeing what’s right, with these beautiful gardens and houses,” said Waldfogel. “That’s a nice way to be connected to a place.”
On CNN July 8, Philando Castile’s uncle, Clarence Castile, wondered aloud about the state of policing and how the idea of a beat cop who knows everybody in the neighborhood is a long-gone fantasy, a fossil from another time. Maybe so, but the archetype still exists in the idea of citizen patrols.
“We’ve been doing this for almost two years and now we have people waving to us as we walk down Lyndale and Nicollet,” said Hudak.
Which is not exactly the relationship the cops currently have with the citizenry. But it should be, according to President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing http://tinyurl.com/p4augo4), which calls for the community itself to be a partner in public safety: “Community policing requires the active building of positive relationships with members of the community. Community policing cannot be a program, unit, strategy or tactic. It must be the core principle that lies at the foundation of a police department’s culture. The only way to significantly reduce fear, crime, and disorder and then sustain these gains is to leverage the greatest force multiplier: the people of the community.”
Like President Obama, every other word out of the Kingfield Citizen Patrollers’ mouths is “community.” Not a bad starting point for police reform and the reimagination of public safety we the people find ourselves thrust into, especially at a time when the going norm is one of armored tank-driving cops who remain apart from the citizenry and the communities they serve.
“When I see the crime statistics when I go to my board meeting, I’m always happy to see that there’s no crime happening between 8:30 and 9:30 on Wednesday mornings,” cracked Hudak. “But I put out a notice on the Next Door app every Tuesday night, just to say that we’ll be walking in the morning and to join us if you can.”
“I work at home alone and it’s really, really good to connect with people in the neighborhood and to get out,” said Waldfogel.
At the very least, the Kingfield superheroes have something important to add to the discussion — even though they’ve never actually had to apprehend a bad guy.
“We’ve never caught anyone in the act of anything,” said Hudak. “But if we do … we’re an intimidating bunch of ladies.”
“They see these green vests and they run,” said Stoic.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]