Building Community, Block by Block

Local 9 crime prevention specialist Rowena Homes talks with block captain Lorraine Pittman during a meeting at the 4th Precinct.

At community and block leader meetings, crime prevention specialists typically keep residents, business people and institutional leaders up to date. They report on crime trends; follow up on incidents; and help leaders come up with a plan to deal with crime or nuisance problems in their neighborhoods.

In the Willard-Hay neighborhood in North Minneapolis, for example, Rowena Holmes and block leaders are working through a list of problems: speeding cars, trash, rental houses and other nuisance properties, congestion caused by people who don’t live there, loud arguments, noise issues.

They compare notes, share information on who knows what about which neighbors, and talk about potential solutions, including what to do about a youth drum corps rehearsing in someone’s driveway.

How to use 911

Holmes, who is a crime prevention specialist in the 4th Precinct, stresses the importance of calling 911 so problems can be logged and reported back to her. “We can’t act against a home without a history of complaints,” Holmes says. “Disturbing the peace is enough of a reason to complain. It helps nip problems in the bud.”

At the Waite Park Community Council in Northeast, Nick Juarez hears a different list of problems. But he shares similar advice. The city’s 911 line, he stresses, is not just for emergencies. It is designed to handle all public safety calls. Dispatchers prioritize calls; even if they don’t send a squad, they log the call. That helps spot patterns that can generate police attention later. “Block leaders help establish a base line for what is normal,” Juarez says.

While training block leaders in the 3rd Precinct, Karen Notsch also dispels misperceptions about 911, and explains how to use it effectively. “If you call 911,” she says, “describe what you mean by suspicious. It should be behavior that could reasonably lead to criminal activity.”

For example, someone you don’t know walking down the street is not automatically suspicious. But someone peeking into cars or houses could be, she says.