Police are increasing patrols in the north Minneapolis neighborhoods where a series of shootings have killed two teenagers and wounded several others in the past week.
North Commons Park One is one location where police are giving extra attention. Some neighborhood report that North Commons Park is unsafe after dark. The first shooting victim, Quantell Braxton, 14, was leaving the park the evening of Aug. 20 when he was killed.
Police data shows that officers have spent more time patrolling North Commons Park than most other parks in the city. However, crime in city parks represents a small share of criminal activity in Minneapolis.
It's unknown if the person who shot Braxton fired from North Commons Park. Police officials are withholding many details of their investigation, but acknowledge that he had been in the park with his friends just before he was killed.
Young people often linger in North Commons Park after it closes at 10 p.m., Fourth Precinct Commander Mike Martin said.
"We're pretty good at, between us and the park police, at getting those kids out of the park and sending them from the park," Martin said. "But we do have kids who will congregate in there."
North Commons Park is sprawling. Its 25-acres are dotted with shaded rolling hills, several sports fields, a playground, a basketball court and water park.
"It's not a park where there's a lot of easy places to hide, but it's a big park, so it's hard to see the center of the park and all the park from the streets," Martin said.
Despite the recent shooting, people still congregated in the park on a recent weekday afternoon. A handful of kids splashed around in the water park. Nearby three young men sat on a bench eating lunch.
Corey Jones is about to attend North High School as a senior. The school is across the street from the south end of the park. Jones said he's not afraid to walk through the park during the day, but after nightfall he's more cautious.
"Maybe in the dark, sometimes be a little shaky," Jones said. "Should I walk through the park or shouldn't I? Because anybody can be doing anything in park at a certain time."
Jeffrey Thomas, who recently moved away from the north side, said there's violence in the surrounding neighborhood and it doesn't stop at the park's borders.
"It's all over. Even in the park. All over," Thomas said. "It's everywhere."
Minneapolis park police and city police are looking closely at North Commons Park. Of the 182 parks in the city's system, only Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis has received more calls for service.
In total, there have been 179 calls in 2011 to North Commons Park. But Minneapolis Park Police Chief Linda Bergstrom says call volume does not tell the whole story. Over half of the police calls to the park were routine walk-through visits and not in response to criminal activity. These are records of time when a park police officer stops by a park building to visit staff and check around.
"They have a vested interested in their precincts and they want to make sure that they know what's going on. And so they always stop in their parks," Bergstrom said.
That leaves 86 calls to North Commons Park, averaging an incident every three days, which include reports of minor disturbances and fights. There were also two robbery calls and two reports of shots fired.
However, the records do not show a shots-fired call the evening Braxton was killed, possibly because he was not shot on the park grounds. Braxton died on the street that borders the park.
Many of the other parks with high levels of police calls are also likely to be located in higher crime areas. However, on the whole, Bergstrom said the city's 182 parks experience less crime than other parts of the city. Less than two percent of all city crime occurs in city parks.
Some parks are safer than others. Police data shows several Minneapolis parks haven't recorded a single criminal incident so far this year.
"I'm just very proud that our parks are very safe. I mean, less than two percent is really wonderful," Bergstrom said. "We can tell people we're out there everyday and we're working very hard to work with the citizens, because they've been very helpful."
The Minneapolis Park Police force is made up of 23 sworn officers, eight sergeants, one lieutenant and a chief, as well as 23 non-sworn summer park patrol agents. The agents wear uniforms and patrol parks on foot and bicycle. Officers and agents patrol parks, parkways and some golf courses.
Officers work closely with the maintenance staffs of the parks they patrol, Bergstrom said. Officers request additional lighting, or for trees or bushes to be cleared to improve their view.
Police officials will be present at a Sunday's vigil for Braxton near North Common's Park.