Renee Allen joins 1st Precinct

1st Precinct Crime Prevention Specialist Renee Allen in Cedar-Riverside, one of the three neighborhoods she now covers.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

CORRECTION: 1st Precinct open house is Wednesday, May 13 (not May 16)

Correction: The 1st Precinct open house is Wednesday, May 13, 11 a.m.–2 p.m., not May 16, as published in our May issue.

When she was a kid, Renee Allen wanted to be either a cowboy or a cop. The cowboy thing hasn’t panned out, but since 1998, the new Downtown East, Cedar-Riverside and Elliot Park crime prevention specialist (CPS) has been involved in policing, with nine years as a CPS and, most recently, six months as a sworn officer for the Transit Police.

In early March, Allen took over the 1st Precinct’s Sector 2 neighborhoods, previously covered by CPS Luther Krueger, who the entire precinct. Krueger’s job as crime prevention analyst now includes more analysis to figure how best to organize different groups and do more citywide work, like representing the police department in meetings with agencies and different constituency groups like business owners and the homeless. With Allen on board, he’ll continue his CPS duties in Sector 1, but now he has more time to work on things that had been on the back burner, like programs focusing on chronic offenders.

“For me it’s a great relief, ’cause she is really good,” Krueger said.

In her new role, Allen has been working with residents and businesses in the neighborhoods to prevent crime by connecting them with each other and the city’s resources. She sees herself as something of a switchboard operator, tasked with plugging the right information and help into the right places. Allen, who has two adult sons, is a multitasker who says she always has to be doing something. Those characteristics lend themselves “100 percent” to the job of a CPS, she said, as it’s important to be able to focus on more than one thing. “You have to be extremely versatile … There are just too many things, and the job itself is too varied,” she said.

When Allen moved from Coon Rapids to North Minneapolis in the early ’90s, “my friends and family thought I was insane,” she said, but she got involved with the community right away and has continued to work with various Minneapolis neighborhoods ever since. Working with the McKinley community, she helped open the Lowry/Emerson police substation, and through that work attended the Minneapolis Police Department’s Citizen’s Academy, which captivated her attention.

“I wanted to know more and more and more,” she said. Inspired by one of the academy’s speakers, a woman about her age who was just starting as a new officer, Allen said she thought to herself, “I can do this.”

Eventually, she started going to school for law enforcement and became manager of the Lowry/Emerson substation, which led to her first CPS job in the Jordan neighborhood. It was a challenging area — and she’s been fortunate, she said, to work in several. “They’re areas where you have to be a little more creative on how you address some of the issues … It’s not a rote position at all,” she said.

One of her first creative solutions exists to this day. When she first started working in the Jordan community, residents frustrated with a problem corner responded by picketing to attract media and police attention. But that wasn’t a long-term solution. “They absolutely had to create some kind of positive presence on that corner,” she said.

When she proposed they turn one of the corner’s empty lots into a garden, she wasn’t sure how they’d respond. But they heard her out and agreed to give it a try. A gardener herself, Allen helped get it started, and it was a success.

“A little oasis at 26th and Knox,” she called it. The neighborhood respected the garden; a while later, a “huge riot” on the corner left news vans overturned but the garden untouched. “The little kids were invested in [the garden], and the families knew that,” she said. “It’s still a real viable project, and I’m just so proud of … what the community was able to pull together.”

In her new neighborhoods, she said, while there are cultural differences among her old and new posts — especially among immigrant populations — communities essentially have the same goals, said Allen.

“Everybody wants a clean, safe place for themselves and their children,” she said.

As a CPS, it’s her job to help residents and business owners make that happen. That means being in the community, interacting with people on the street or at meetings of groups like business associations and block clubs. And if there is no community organization in a problem area, she’ll work to get one started and “shine a light in that area.

“It’s an organized community that drives away crime,” she said. Businesses need to establish a relationship amongst themselves so they can share information and resources, she said. While Allen can inform them about ordinances and statutes they can use, “the police department and crime prevention specialists are here as a resource,” she said, “not to do it for them.”

She’s eager to hear from the community and wants people to know that “no question’s too stupid.” Navigating the city’s resources and learning who can do what, she said, can be a huge challenge. Like switchboard operators, “we know how to plug people into where they need to go to get their problems taken care of,” she added.

Her biggest message to area residents is actually a request: “Step outside your front door, pick up your litter and meet your neighbor.” Crime is less likely where neighborhoods are active, and holing up at home out of fear only breeds more of the same, she cautioned.

“At some point, you have to step beyond your comfort zone and go back outside … Become a community, rather than a whole bunch of individuals with little boundaries all around [your] houses,” she said. “That’s what crime prevention’s all about — expanding the boundaries.”

last revised: May 12, 2009