Fiddling while Minneapolis burns

Yesterday a highly decorated St. Paul police officer was murdered while working undercover in the heart of the city’s east side. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the essential elements of the story today in “Gunshots in dark alley lead to tense manhunt.” The two suspects apprehended by the police are repeat offenders with records beginning in Chicago and resuming in the Twin Cities: “Suspects had long criminal histories.” The Star Tribune profiles the murdered police officer in “St. Paul loses cop with big heart.”
Over the past six months, the lifestyle offenses that come with gang activity have reached epidemic proportions in the Twin Cities. Panhandling occurs at the most heavily-trafficked St. Paul and Minneapolis highway exits. Recognizing a problem in the making, the Minneapolis police chief proposed requiring begging licenses that would facilitate the arrest of panhandlers (click here). In Minneapolis? Fuhgettaboutit.
In the past year, gangs have brazenly moved their activity and related offenses to the heart of downtown Minneapolis. In New York City, Rudy Giuliani famously implemented a law enforcement program that restored the city’s streets to law abiding citizens virtually overnight. The techniques necessary to clean up the streets are well known; Minneapolis even adopted a variant of them after it was dubbed Murderapolis in 1995. But the forces of political correctness — cheered on by the Minneapolis Star Tribune — have caused law enforcement to retreat.
Today’s Star Tribune coincidentally carries its editorial proposal to get the situation under control: “Beyond begging: Businesses: claim sidewalks.” According to the Star Tribune, “so-called lifestyle offenses” are “difficult to judge and control.” Listen to the fiddling:

The only effective strategy is lots of cops mingling on the streets. But that’s a labor-intensive solution that the city, in an era of budget-cutting, cannot sustain.
The most promising answer is for private business to begin asserting ownership of the sidewalks in front of their establishments. Private security guards have now joined a task force of city and transit police officers and county sheriff’s deputies in an attempt to reestablish civility.
The strategy has worked so far, Allen said, and with a bonus: Not only are sidewalks friendlier, but a rash of assaults, robberies and other crimes has suddenly ebbed, leading police to suspect that the same guys who stand around making comments do other stuff, too.
More steps are needed. Businesses should assert further control by cleaning and greening their sidewalks. Trashy behavior will be more difficult on sidewalks that are scrubbed and beautified — and reinvestment in street-level retail will follow.

(Emphasis added.) The Star Tribune is Minnesota’s dominant newspaper; the subject of its editorial is the viability of the streets more or less outside its windows. Yet before this spring did the Star Tribune ever report on the “rash of assaults, robberies and other crimes” occuring on its beat? Answer: No.
Now the Star Tribune orders Minneapolis business owners to undertake basic law enforcement activity in the heart of downtown through private security guards; the Star Tribune has finally found a form of outsourcing it can wholeheartedly support. According to the Star Tribune, private security guards are apparently better able to discern and control illegal “lifestyle offenses” than the city’s police officers. And business should not forget the necessity of additional steps — scrub those sidewalks! (Isn’t that a bit draconian?)
The requirement of hiring private security guards heralds a bonanza for downtown business. Reinvestment in street level retail will surely follow as the cost of private law enforcement is added to the other costs of doing business downtown.
The willful cluelessness on display in this editorial is mind boggling. One of the basic insights of the “broken windows” style of policing that transformed the streets of New York overnight was the coincidence of lifestyle offenses and serious offenders. In 2005, the Star Tribune treats this insight as some kind of a breakthrough. Is it too much to hope that some day it might get serious about doing something about it?


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