Rochester copes with emerging gang problem

Northwest Rochester
Northwest Rochester is a leafy neighborhood of bungalows and split level homes. Kids of all ages and ethnicities live in the neighborhood
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

Police have fought the gang problem in the Twin Cities for years, but smaller cities, like Rochester, are facing the same challenges.

In Rochester, violent crimes like drive by shootings and stabbings were up 14 percent last year. That violence has struck one working-class area in particular -- in June alone, the Northwest neighborhood had three drive-by shootings.

The neighborhood has experienced a lot of growth in the last year. The homes are largely owner-occupied; they are split level and bungalows. It's a mixed neighborhood, racially and economically.

Laura Randolph, who has lived on a cul de sac in the neighborhood for 10 years, knows just about everyone around her.

"Actually, you kind of know when someone new has moved in because it takes people a while to get used to their yard and keep it up," she said. "So whenever you see one that isn't as well kempt you know that someone new has come in."

Randolph and her husband have two small children. In the last year she has seen graffiti and kids in gang colors. Last summer, a house down the street got shot up.

Steve Thompson
Steve Thompson is Rochester Police Department's gang investigator. He says Rochester's gang problem is a result of the city's growth.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

Randolph didn't know the family. She says they had recently moved in. One of the kids had been told by his parents that he couldn't live there because of his gang activity.

"He had been at a party and got into an altercation, and because he was scared he ran home to his family and then they followed him," she said.

Randolph says the family moved away after the shooting.

The gang trouble in Rochester doesn't compare to the shootings and drug dealing in the Twin Cities. But Rochester Police gang investigator Steve Thompson says he doesn't want to wait for it to get to that level.

Thompson says for now the groups target one another. Shootings spike for a few months, then things get quiet again.

Laura Randolph
Laura Randolph has lived in the neighborhood for the past 10 years, she says she and her family decided to against moving because of the commitment neighbors have made to getting the neighborhood back on track.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

"We have Bloods and then various cliques or sets of Bloods," he said." We have a group calling themselves the Mahz Family. We have Junior Bloods, Somali Bloods, Bosnian Bloods. We have Crip Gangs. We have a group calling themselves the Shotgun Crips, SMG Crips, Black P Stones, Gangster Disciples..."

He says some gangs primarily deal drugs. Many have ties with gangs in Minneapolis. Thompson says in many cases these are teens and 20-somethings who live side-by-side in northwest Rochester with their parents.

"Which makes it very difficult to effect change in those neighborhoods as well because those people are rooted in those houses, they own them."

He says violence is more often over a girl than a drug deal. In 2006 a teenager was stabbed 19 times during a brawl that started over girls.

Rochester overall remains a safe city. So far this year, there have been no homicides. Last year there were five.

Thompson says the gang activity is a growing pain, but it has not changed Rochester's character. The city has formed a unit that patrols high-crime areas. Multiple neighborhoods have started watch groups that patrol during the evening.

That's comforting to Randolph, though she says she is still worried.

"We made plans to move," she said. "And then sat down and talked with some of our neighbors and decided not to. They seemed committed to sticking through it. And we know that the police are working on it. We felt we owed our neighbors to stay."