When the number of blocks that have block club leaders hits 90%, reported crime can “drop like a rock,” said Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) Crime Prevention Analyst Luther Krueger, who oversees block clubs for the city. He has the analysis to back up that claim.
“It appears that 80% to 90% is the ‘tipping point’ where enough neighbors are educated through our block leaders in the value of — and limits of — calling 911, organizing with the MPD and other city agencies to solve problems at properties and corners, and in simply getting to know their neighbors better, and watching out for each other.”
Krueger said a block that has kept a very watchful presence can show up on the crime maps as relatively “crime-dot-free,” even as there may be many dots on the blocks around it.
“Likewise, whole neighborhoods that have gotten highly organized, both with block clubs and proactive safety committees, can seem like oases compared with abutting neighborhoods with far fewer organized blocks,” he added.
As part of the MPD’s continuing effort to recruit block club leaders, Crime Prevention Specialist (CPS) Abdirashid Ali gave a presentation during the Second Precinct Advisory Council (2-PAC) Zoom meeting for October (watch the meeting here: youtube.com/watch?v=qd8MqZTq404).
Ali is one of two specialists covering Northeast. He covers north of Broadway Street NE and Nicholas Juarez covers south of Broadway. They’re each in charge of about 11 neighborhoods. Specialists do most of the MPD’s recruitment and support, as they serve as the block club leaders’ main conduit to the rest of the MPD.
Block club leaders are volunteers. Contact information remains private. Leaders can leave any time they want, and rejoin at a later time. It’s also fine to have multiple leaders on one block. The only requirement to be a block club leader is to host two events a year. For many blocks, one event is a National Night Out (NNO) party on the first Tuesday of August.
Krueger said Minneapolis has been recruiting block club leaders since the mid-1980s, but block clubs have been around much longer. Participation has grown.
“In 2009 we reviewed our block club coverage and found that less than one third of the blocks in the city had block leaders,” said Krueger. “Then Asst. Chief Harteau established the measure that in each Sector, CPSs would recruit one new block leader each week on a block that previously did not have anyone we could partner up with. We went from roughly 30% in 2009 to 80% as of today. We are at 72% in the Second Precinct.”
For the past year, Krueger said, Minneapolis has been holding steady, but they’re hoping to reach that magic 90%.
“We’ve surveyed neighborhoods that, concurrent with our lack of determined outreach in the 1990’s and 2000’s, had gotten 90% or more of their blocks organized, and saw subsequent drops in crime,” Krueger said.
Krueger said crime prevention specialists encourage block club leaders to simply make sure everyone on the block feels included in the steps it takes to be more watchful.
“Those who sign up with us serve as an extension of our education and outreach, such as in forwarding crime alerts and hosting block meetings to survey neighbors’ concerns,” said Krueger. “The most effective leaders find ways to help all residents and businesses on the block do what they can to improve their sense of safety. For myself, I got involved because I simply believed that people shouldn’t have to live in fear, and most people feared the unknown — once they were educated on how drugs drag down a neighborhood, and how they can address it while building community, the fear level drops to the point where people aren’t acting out of panic or frustration, but out of a sense of empowerment.”
Many block clubs may have one concern about a property or crime pattern, and after they resolve it, they expand to other issues, Krueger said, like putting a garden on a vacant lot or helping a disabled resident with groceries, home upkeep, etc.
“One block in Lyndale had the urban equivalent of a barn-raising, in that they found an elderly resident who was just short of having her home condemned — and they pooled their many home maintenance skills to bring her home up to snuff,” Krueger said.
In another case, he said, a block club helped a resident who was considering moving because a child in the home tested positive for lead poisoning and they couldn’t afford abatement. The block club worked with the owner to scrape window frames and replace drywall.
“We were able to keep a good family with many kids who saw how a healthy community works to pull together and lean on each other for support,” Krueger said.
“With another family,” he said. “The dad made the unfortunate choice to start dealing marijuana, but we worked with the precinct to simply do a knock-and-talk to convince him to stop, rather than doing a raid which can be traumatizing. It worked, and again, we kept a good family on the block.”
Training for block club leaders isn’t strictly required, Krueger said, “but we feel it’s urgent for a block leader who is partnering with us when problems arise on the block, to get as much information and help with potential strategies as possible.”
“Many blocks find that they’ve gotten organized before they heard of our program and support, and often their leaders grew out of other neighborhood projects and were already well apprised of what they could do by partnering with the MPD, and some are already working to solve problems such that they get educated during the time we strategize to help resolve those problems,” he said.
Available training, “is exhaustive as far as tips for strategies blocks can do on their own or in collaboration with the MPD or other city agencies.”
“A lot of people don’t know how much they can do until they attend our trainings,” he said. “With the pandemic, most of the training is done of course online, but the information is the same.”
Generally speaking, Krueger said, block clubs in Minneapolis are thriving.
“One very good indication of how effective block clubs are is that this year, we had already gotten over 1,000 NNO registrations from registered leaders by mid-February, when the pandemic was declared,” Krueger said. “In spite of this, the vast majority, recognizing the value of staying connected, expedited event planning to include prudent health policies such as masks, social distancing, forgoing potlucks for BYO food and beverages, etc.”
“Even after the pandemic restrictions started to be enacted, another 200-plus block leaders registered their events. There is no other city that I’m aware of that has emphasized building community on the scale that we have. Most years Minneapolis has been ranked #1 by the National Association of Town Watch for its NNO support — one year the head of NATW responded to my report with ‘Those are crazy numbers!,’ but they are real, and block leaders should be proud of their proactive organizing, neighbor-to-neighbor support and communications, and working with the MPD even as we address valid concerns about equitable policing.”
Columbia Heights Neighborhood Watch
Columbia Heights also has a neighborhood watch program, which is focused on identifying block leaders willing to be a liaison for their immediate area, and has more than 100 block leaders who are actively participating.
“The program leaders work as a two-way communication channel with the police department where we can share information with local residents and they have a contact that can help share neighborhood concerns,” said Columbia Heights Police Sergeant Erik Johnston. “In addition, we also connect with our local business community through a Business Watch Program where we meet with business owners or management and build connections to share information and promote an ongoing dialogue.”
To become a block leader or for more info…
For more information on block clubs in Minneapolis visit minneapolismn.gov/resident-services/public-safety/prevent-prepare/crime-prevention/block-clubs/. To start a block club, contact Abdirashid Ali at Abdirashid.Ali@minneapolismn.gov or 612-673-2874, or Nicholas Juarez at Nicholas.Juarez@minneapolismn.gov or 612-673-2797. When they have enough people on the list, they’ll organize a training.
For information on Neighborhood Watch in Columbia Heights, visit columbiaheightsmn.gov/departments/police/programs_and_resources/departments/police/neighborhood_watch.php. To start a watch group, call 763-706-8100.
For information on Neighborhood Watch in St. Anthony, visit savmn.com/193/Community-Engagement, or call 612-782-3350.