In the bad old days, Chico Rowland remembers, the streets near his home were filled with drug dealers. "I'd come home and there'd be 10 or 15 people out in the middle of the block, it was like a crack convention," he says.
Now, a drive down Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis' east Phillips neighborhood reveals little if any suspicious activity. It's taken two decades of nose to the grindstone work by residents to corral Bloomington Avenue's crime problems.
Their crime fighting formula is sophisticated.
Besides lobbying police and judges to arrest and prosecute criminals, residents formed citizen patrols. They guarded school bus stops to shield children from drug dealers. They took down license numbers of drug customers and sent them letters.
A main ingredient was getting people's attention, showing police, probation officers, prosecutors and judges, none of whom live there, the toll crime was taking on the neighborhood, according to Chico Rowland.
"If you don't live here and don't experience this, if you don't have to experience this you may not care," he says.
This is the first summer in a decade Jana Metge has been able to work in her garden near Bloomington Avenue without being accosted by drug dealers or other criminals.
Metge is a crime victim. A few years ago she returned from a trip to find her home taken over by drug dealers. There were arrests, prosecutions and jail time. But one of the perpetrators returned to the neighborhood and his old ways.
Their crime fighting formula includes residents meeting regularly with people in the system to trade information, according to Metge.
"We have probation, judges, police, residents all at the table so you hear first hand so we've broken down that silo mentality and that is crucial," she says.
The residents have color photos of the people arrested in their neighborhood with a list of their prior crimes. They show them to prosecutors and judges and then keep track of who is convicted and who's getting out of jail or prison.
The residents also try prevent crime by finding treatment or domestic abuse counseling for people in trouble.
Everyone agrees technology is a major factor in fighting crime on Bloomington Avenue. The hub of that crime fighting tool is the Minneapolis 3rd precinct headquarters where police officers watch a large flat screen TV at the front desk.
They're monitoring images from 30 precinct cameras including two trained on Bloomington Avenue. Desk Officer Mike Segulia says the high resolution images monitor all the daytime and nighttime activity.
"The minute a car or even a pedestrian comes through then it starts taping what the camera is seeing," he says.
Officer Segulia says when he sees a group of people standing around and talking he takes note. He can zoom the camera in to watch their hands to see what they're exchanging. The real-time images allow Segulia to dispatch a patrol car from his desk within seconds.
The recent arrival of the cameras has caused the drug dealers, prostitutes and their customers to melt away, according to hardware store owner Mark Welna.
"When they put the cameras out they just disappeared. Now, I'm not sure where they went. Some of them went off onto the side avenues...but they like to be on main streets I've heard, just like location, location, location," he says.
Fighting crime on Bloomington Avenue is not for the faint of heart. A few years ago a frustrated drug dealer fired at resident Shirley Heyer's van while she was on patrol taking down license numbers of buyers.
Heyer is muted in her view of the drop in crime. She says a lot of the criminals are still around. Heyer says they've moved a few blocks away.
"Eighteenth Avenue all the way to Chicago is as bad as it's always been, it's a freeway for drug dealers and prostitutes," according to Heyer, who says our society is still unwilling to attack the roots of crime by helping people find drug treatment and decent housing.
Residents along Bloomington Avenue in south Minneapolis refused to let the criminals take over their neighborhood and all agree that if they let down their guard the criminals will return, literally overnight.