Downtown Minneapolis business leaders want more cops on streets

A pedicab driver transports a  passenger along N. 5th St.
In this 2017 file photo, a pedicab driver transports a passenger along N. 5th St. in downtown Minneapolis past a row of Metro Transit police cars.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Brightly clad workers known as ambassadors will be working later shifts this weekend in downtown Minneapolis. Officials with the Minneapolis Downtown Council said the new hours are part of a pilot project that will keep the ambassadors on the sidewalks until 3 a.m. The workers are promoted by the council as friendly faces who can help show visitors around.

The move comes as downtown business leaders move to address public concerns about violent crime.

Earlier this week, the Hennepin County Attorneys Office charged Varnell Allen, 23, with the murder of Enzo Herrera Garcia, 21.

According to the criminal complaint, Herrera Garcia was walking down a sidewalk near 8th Street and Hennepin Avenue with his girlfriend around 10:20 p.m. last Saturday. The complaint then said Allen allegedly yelled at the couple from a nearby car. He later got out of the car and allegedly fatally shot Herrera Garcia.

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"What we've been hearing and feeling over the course of the last several months feels different than it has in previous years,” said Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber. “And we are here to put a stake in the ground and say the business community is ready to continue to be a productive partner in the public safety conversation."

Three people sit at a table at a conference.
Jonathan Weinhagen, Steve Cramer and Joanne Kaufman spoke about their public safety concerns at a press conference Wednesday.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Minneapolis police crime stats show a 25 percent increase in reported violent crime in the Central Business District over the same period in 2018. And there have been seven homicides in the section of downtown so far this year. Last year at this time, there was one.

Violence has dropped by 35 percent in the North Loop neighborhood, which is a popular site for bars and restaurants. However, Joanne Kaufman, who leads an association of business owners in that section of downtown, said members of her group say they’re losing customers.

“Their customers are either going home earlier than they have in the past or not coming at all,” she said.

Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Downtown Council, said businesses are hiring more private security staff and continue to partner with police officers.

Cramer said police working downtown are doing a good job. But he said their ranks are spread too thin.

"So we do support and appreciate the mayor's initiative to add additional officers in his proposed 2020 budget and look forward to working with the City Council as they consider their position on that topic,” said Cramer, referring to Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposal to add 14 more police officers to the force next year.

Cramer echoed the sentiments recently expressed by the leaders of four major sports clubs that call downtown home. Last month, executives representing the Minnesota Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves and Lynx wrote a commentary in the Star Tribune calling for at least 14 more cops. The commentary points out that with autumn comes thousands of football and basketball fans to downtown and the city needs to ensure their safety.

Unlike the last seasons, the Minnesota Twins will be playing at Target Field for at least one playoff game next week.