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Residents, police work to overcome crime in Third Precinct

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Praying in Peavey Park
Lovette Kardor, 8, prays with her mother Ernestine Freeman during an "Amen Corner" event at Peavey Park in Minneapolis, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. The biweekly event is organized by the Ventura Village Neighborhood Organization community engagement committee in response to the high level of crime and violence in and around Peavey Park. Freeman, who lives in the area, said the event has helped clean up Peavey Park, and she and her family have recently started to spend time in the park again.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Three men are charged this week by the Hennepin County Attorney's office in connection to a recent shooting that left a 30-year-old man hospitalized in critical condition. The violent attack took place in a part of south Minneapolis that has seen several high profile crimes this year.

Reported incidents of nearly all types of violent crime in the precinct are down from this same period last year. However, there have been a few more homicides than there were at this time in 2010. And 10 of this year's 16 killings in Minneapolis have taken place in the Third Precinct.

The Third Precinct of Minneapolis covers a large section of the city's south side. It stretches from just outside downtown to the Crosstown freeway at the south, and is bordered on the east by the Mississippi river and the west by I-35W.

Inspector Lucy Gerold of the Minneapolis Police Department grew up in the Third Precinct. She's the only Minneapolis police commander who lives in the same precinct she supervises.

"I really know the precinct both as a resident and a precinct commander," Gerold said. "I know the issues and I know the people."

Most of the homicides in this precinct have involved people with some connection to street gangs, Gerold said. She stops short of saying they are gang-related killings. Lately, Minneapolis police officials limiting their use of the term, gang-related —  a victim's and perpetrator's gang affiliation doesn't necessarily mean their conflict was based on official gang business.

Unlike gangs in north Minneapolis, Gerold said, south-side gangs tend to be more structured, and their membership spans generations of families.

"In the Third Precinct, with the Bloods in the Central neighborhood, which they still claim as their territory, they are, I think battling for setting up new leadership, new structure, trying to figure out who they are."

Somali and Latino gangs also operate in parts of the precinct, Gerold said.

Handing off the microphone
With a group of MADD DADS looking on, Rabin Osborne hands the microphone back to Dee Henry Williams during an open-mic "Amen Corner" event at Peavey Park in Minneapolis, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. Osborne, of Minneapolis, was mugged and had money stollen by teenagers in Peavey Park about a month ago, and said she is glad the community is taking steps to clean up the crime and violence in the park.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The majority of assaults and killings here are committed by people who are familiar with each other, Gerold said. However, one homicide bucked the trend. In July 2011, Shea Stremcha, a 25-year-old homeowner was killed by two men who broke into his home.

"That is really the unusual homicide. But it's also the one that creates the most fear," Gerold said.

Like the rest of Minneapolis, the Third Precinct is made up of mostly low-crime neighborhoods peppered by a few hotspots that draw frequent police attention, including a park near the corner of Chicago and Franklin Avenues.

"Peavey Park has been an area that has attracted drug dealers and other nefarious characters."

Children crossing the street
A group of children are led across the street at E. Franklin Ave. and Chicago Ave. S. in Minneapolis, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The department has increased patrols and arrests in the park. An examination of the most recent available police calls shows officers have been summoned to the park this year 164 times, often because of reports of suspicious persons. During the same period last year, police responded to 116 calls at the park.

USE IT OR LOSE IT

Neighborhood residents are also increasing their presence. On a recent evening, about 200 people gathered in the park for dinner and a movie, Gerold said.

"We've seen an amazing restoration of community activity in the park."

Security cameras
Mobile security cameras were installed at Peavey Park to help reduce the crime and violence at the park in Minneapolis, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Evach Thursday and Friday evening for the past few weeks, organizers from the Ventura Village Neighborhood Association place a public address system in the plaza and encourage passersby to speak their minds. Some people sing, some rap, some announce community events, others come to vent.

In a section of Peavey Park called Thrones Plaza, V.J. Smith, director of  the anti-violence activist group, MAD DADS,  hosts an event called the Amen Corner.

"Somebody say amen to that. Amen in the neighborhood," Smith said.

Ken Nelson, shared his personal testimony. He said he used to be one of the people that hurt this community, but says God helped him turn his life around.

Displaying beauty
Jimmy Miles secures flowers to his bicycle during an "Amen Corner" event at Peavey Park in Minneapolis, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. Miles said he wanted to share a little beauty with people.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"I used to walk up and down these streets didn't even have no where to sleep at night sometimes. Sometimes I slept on the bench. Sometimes I slept under the bridge."

The area has undergone some visible changes too. New commercial and business development have appeared over the last several years along both Franklin and Chicago Avenues.

Some say much more change is needed. Robert Albee, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years and is a member of the Ventura Village Neighborhood Association, one of four groups that make up the greater Phillips neighborhood, said he's glad to see the renewed effort to bring peace to the park. It can be successful only if people continue the effort, he said.

"The point is whether it's reclamation, taking back the park or whatever, which is sort of a militaristic sounding thing," Albee said. "Or whether it's just, 'Let's start using the park which was given to us.' "

Police officials use a more blunt assessment: when it comes to Peavey Park and other crime-ridden areas, residents either use those spaces or lose them to criminals.