Business owners on the West Bank are aiming to take a more active role in improving the safety of their community.
The West Bank Business Association is instituting a block safety program that will seek business owners to volunteer as captains for each city block. The volunteers would maintain contact lists for businesses in their area and serve as “safety ambassadors” for neighboring businesses. The program was rolled out last week.
The program is an addition to the already-established Cedar-Riverside residential block club program that recruits private residents as leaders of their own blocks.
Business owners are concerned about their ability to make a living if customers avoid coming to their establishments because they do not feel safe in the area, according to a March WBBA staff report.
The neighborhood saw several recent instances of violent crime, including several shootings in recent months, one of which resulted in a fatality. Following the incidents, the Minneapolis Police Department met with community members to discuss public safety and MPD’s response to the recent violence.
“More officers, more patrolling, more presence, so [they’ve] beefed up a few things,” said president of the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program and WBBA member Mary Mellen. “The police have been very responsive in my opinion from what I’ve seen, and I know these guys ... they care enough about the area.”
Lynn Johnson has been a Cedar-Riverside resident and residential block club leader for more than 25 years. The position requires a sense of responsibility to the community, and the diversity of the predominantly East African neighborhood requires block-leaders to understand other cultures, Johnson said.
“When you get people that want to get involved, you’ve got to make sure that they want to make a commitment,” Johnson said. “You got to be able to communicate to the community that you’re in. Not only is it communication, [but] you have to understand the community that you’re involved with.”
In addition to being a block leader, Johnson is also a WBBA member and sits on a safety committee with MPD’s first precinct.
“You’ve got a commitment to the community,” he said. “We want to make sure that we have a very safe community.”
Many neighborhoods across the city have block safety programs, including the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood on the other side of the river. More visibility in neighborhoods is often an effective crime prevention strategy, said Marcus Mills, a Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association board member.
“Eyes on the street can definitely make a neighborhood look like less vulnerable to target, and lighting on the street can definitely help with other kinds of crime,” Mills said.