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Minneapolis council members get a closer look at crime
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City council president Paul Ostrow listens to a north Minneapolis business owner who boarded the bus to tell the passengers about her struggles with crime. (Brandt Williams)
Several Minneapolis city councilmembers took part in a unique study session on neighborhood crime this week. The councilmembers boarded a tour bus and drove through some of the city's most well-known spots for criminal activity. The purpose of the trip was to give them a more personal view of the city's neighborhood crime problem.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The tour began in the Phillips neighborhood in south Minneapolis. That's councilmember Dean Zimmerman's ward.

Zimmerman stops the bus at the corner of Franklin and Park Avenue. It is known as a hot spot for crack dealing and other illegal activity. But on this morning no one is within two blocks of the intersection.

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Image Tour bus

"Unfortunately, we're here at the wrong time of the day," says Zimmerman. "If you come by here and I would urge you to come by this intersection some time early in the morning in the pre-rush hour. You will see lots of people hanging out on this corner and all the way down and then in the evening it fills up."

As the bus winds through Phillips, speakers take turns explaining the landscape. Some are members of the police department's Community Crime Prevention program. Their messages are synched with the bus route so they can talk about drug houses and other problem properties as they ride by them.

Jana Metge also lives in Zimmerman's ward. She reads a list of some of the problems she and her neighbors are fighting. Parents of school children have to find alternative routes for their children to take to reach the bus stop. They fear the drug dealers and prostitutes who've set up shop in full view of the kids. Metge also talked about her own experience as a victim of crime.

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Image Young men loiter on a street corner

"In 1997, I went home to Iowa for a wedding and came back to find my house occupied with drug dealers who selling and making crack and who were conducting prostitution in my house," she says.

The tour did find some bright spots along the way.

"There were some concerns in organizing this event that we were going to be taking people through these neighborhoods just to show how bad they are," says Councilmember Robert Lilligren.

He represents the 8th Ward which includes the Central neighborhood and a good chunk of East Lake Street.

"I don't think that's a fair description of what we're doing or what our goal is here at all," says Lilligren. "I think it's to show that there are lots of good things and lots of good people doing them in their communities."

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Image boarded house

Lilligren introduces a few activists who've been working with city and federally funded programs that have had victories against crime here and there. He also gets a chance to show off some of the development going on along Lake Street, including the old Sears building which is going to be inhabited again soon.

But he also complained about the prostitution in his neighborhood and how he's had to pick up used condoms and condom wrappers in the street in front of his house and in his backyard.

Council member Don Samuels organized the tour. His third ward contains several north Minneapolis neighborhoods that are reeling from a recent rash of homicides and shootings.

"We're now approaching the infamous 26th Avenue corridor," says Samuels. He narrates as the bus heads to a convenience store along 26th Avenue in Jordon.

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Image Adrian Bryan

Last week a 20-year-old man was shot and killed in the store. The bus stops near the Jordan community garden and the 40 or so passengers get off the bus and stand in the store's parking lot. Samuels introduces Adrian Bryan - who lives a block from the store.

"On the night of the murder I was out for a walk," says Bryan. "In fact I was on my way to the store."

According to police reports, the victim was running from his killers and entered the store. The men found him, took into the back room and shot him in the head. Bryan says he arrived at the store just minutes after the killers walked out.

"But it was such a reminder of how tenuous our grip is here, because anything that could have...that was not a delay for me that day, I could have been here when it happened," says Bryan.

On the return trip to city hall, Samuels tells the passengers that the goal of the trip is to bring city staff members closer to the people and areas most affected by crime. Samuels wants the people who control budgets and draft city ordinances to always think of the people they met, the places they saw and the stories they heard as they make decisions that impact life in Minneapolis.

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