Crime spike in Marcy-Holmes mobilizes residents, police

Two police squad cars on Southeast Sixth Street in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, where a dramatic increase in burglaries, armed assaults and vandalism led to a crime alert in late April.

Photo by Linda Lincoln

Burglaries, armed assaults and tire-slashings lead to arrests, anticrime efforts

Editor’s note: In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that Linda Lincoln is a homeowner in the Marcy-Holmes area where the crime spike occurred, and that Tom Lincoln, who is quoted in the story, is her husband. Jeremy Stratton conducted an interview for this article.

“It came with a vengeance.”

That’s how Second Precinct Commander Robert Skomra described the sudden spike in burglaries that hit the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood at the end of April. Combined with a series of armed robberies and destructive acts of vandalism, it amounted to a short but intense crime wave that left Marcy-Holmes residents stunned and angry but determined to re-establish the safety and security of their neighborhood.

Other neighborhoods had crime concerns, as well; Carol Oosterhuis, crime prevention specialist for the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) 2nd Precinct, led Prospect Park residents on a walking tour of trouble spots in that neighborhood, while business owners met in Seward to discuss more than a dozen break-ins at businesses in their neighborhood, where police also warn home owners to ward against home burglaries and crimes of opportunity as the summer heats up.

The Marcy-Holmes crime alert came after a week in which at least 16 residents had their houses, apartments or garages broken into. Burglars gained access to the properties by cutting screens and breaking windows, kicking in doors and entering through unlocked doors; they stole money, jewelry, CDs and DVDs, bikes, laptop computers and other electronics. On April 25, more than a dozen residents woke to find one tire on each of their cars slashed.

Violent crime surged, as well. During the month of April, five armed robberies were reported, including a group assault on two students. Residents were horrified when a loaded handgun was found by a toddler at a neighborhood park. On the last day of the month, two armed men attempting to rob Legends Bar and Grill, 825 East Hennepin Ave., were foiled by an off-duty police officer eating lunch there. He fired his gun at them when they refused to drop their weapons. Though the suspects fled the scene, one was later arrested when he sought treatment for a gunshot wound.

Police and residents respond

Since the spike in April, criminal activity in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood has dropped in May back to normal levels for this time of year. After Oosterhuis issued a crime alert, the precinct assigned extra patrols to the neighborhood. By the beginning of May, five individuals had been arrested for burglary, and the frequency of the incidents decreased.

In related news, the City Council approved in May the MPD’s request for $750,000 in overtime funding for additional officers in high-crime areas, through October 2007. Two-thirds of the money will go to the downtown area and the remaining $250,000, will be divided between the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Precincts.

Skomra said that his precinct will continue to put resources into preventing and solving burglaries and break-ins. While there is pressure to focus more on violent crimes, he said, a burglary “is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a family and can cause people to leave the city, undermining our neighborhoods.” For that reason, Skomra said, “burglaries will never drop off my radar.”

The University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD) also made three arrests in recent assaults involving university students, including for the group assault.
Residents did their part, as well. In her crime alert, Oosterhuis warned residents to lock their doors and windows and report any suspicious behavior, and some assisted by distributing the crime alert flyers throughout the neighborhood.

The Marcy-Holmes Safety and Livability Committee held a neighborhoodwide meeting on May 11 to inform residents about the crimes and let them know how they could help. More than 70 residents attended, along with Ward 3 Council Member Diane Hofstede, as well as representatives from the University of Minnesota’s community relations and police departments and the MPD.

At the meeting, members of the committee outlined a three-pronged strategy for fighting neighborhood crime. Martha Ballard — one of the 16 burglary victims — presented the “Join the Grapevine” initiative, through which neighborhood residents monitor specific streets or blocks, get to know neighbors and property owners, and inform police if anything looks awry. “If we put this into play,” said Ballard, “we can deal with small problems before they become big problems.”

Residents may also join the Marcy-Holmes Citizen Walking and Bike Patrols to act “as the eyes of the neighborhood,” according to Randall Davidson, another recent crime victim who is coordinating the effort.

The last aspect, said Committee Chair Tom Lincoln, is to address the larger policy and government issues that undermine public safety, such as inadequate police staffing and problem rental properties. Lincoln said representatives from the neighborhood would continue to work closely with the MPD and strongly advocate for additional support for the police from the city, county and state.

Problem properties and a county connection

Progress was made, as well, with two so-called “problem properties” in the neighborhood. Two men were arrested — in separate incidents — at 414 SE Seventh St. for what police called drug-related crimes. One individual was arrested and charged with narcotics possession for the fourth time in just over a year. Another suspect — allegedly a documented gang member — was arrested for assaulting a victim with a rubber mallet at the address, which he listed as his place of residence.

Although no direct connection can be made, police and residents suspect that car break-ins and tire-slashings may be related to five men who lived for just two weeks in a rental house at 813 SE Fifth Street in mid-April. Lt. Skomra said the incidents took place “so close to that address that we can only speculate that some of the residents may be responsible.”

Neighbors began to complain about disturbing behavior from the new tenants, whom police learned had been referred to the property by a caseworker from the Hennepin Count Detox Center.

There was at least one police call to the address, according to the responding MPD officer, Gary Nelson, but no arrests were made. Nelson described the property as “a flophouse for homeless transients.” While he said it’s “anybody’s guess” if the tenants were involved in the crimes, his larger concern is about using a property in that particular location for residents with serious physical and mental health issues. “My overall impression is that if we’re going to place people like this somewhere, it ought to be supervised,” he said.

John Bollig, a casework manager with Hennepin County, said the county does not place people in specific properties, but rather connects those in need of housing with landlords who have property to rent. In the case of 813 SE Fifth St., “All we did was introduce these people to the landlord,” Bollig said.

The county monitors how clients are doing, Bollig said. In this case, the county intervened, and the tenants moved out as of May 1. The situation “was not fair to the neighborhood,” Bollig said, “because of [the clients’] activities and the people they were drawing there.”

The property itself is now on the radar of Minneapolis’ problem properties unit, a fact that Bollig said Ralph Killing, who has owned the property since February of 2006, did not reveal to the county. In a phone interview, Killing said the county did not ask him about the standing of the property, nor did he consider the then-vacant house a “problem property.”

Tom Deegan, who manages the Problem Property Unit for the city, confirmed that Killing owed $20,000 in back taxes, and that the city is pursuing the revocation of Killing’s rental license and will proceed with a condemnation order if Killing does not appeal, pay the back taxes and satisfy outstanding work orders from the city.

Killing called the back-taxes “an error” that he will take care of, but he declined to comment on the pending case of the outstanding work orders, except to say they were being addressed in a timely fashion. He hopes that an appeal will not be necessary. If his license is not revoked, he plans to sell the property or rent it.
Killing noted that, once problems with the tenants surfaced, those individuals were removed from the property. “I do not tolerate this type of behavior at any of my properties,” he said.

Killing agreed that landlords bear some responsibility for the actions of their tenants. “I will take precaution to make sure I will get the right individual in there,” he said, citing the need for better screening of prospective tenants, particularly background checks that go beyond those required through Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to cover other states, as well.

As for providing housing for homeless or chemically dependent individuals, Killing said, “I feel like the whole world wants to address [the problem], but people don’t want to live around it. As far as I’m concerned, a person has the right to live in any area they want, as long as they can afford it,” he said.

last revised: May 24, 2007