Tom Manion Complains of Bad Police Work

December 23, 1998

Laurie Nistle
Rep. Wes Skoglund’s office

Dear Ms. Nistle:

I was not given the opportunity to testify at the joint hearing of House Judiciary Sub-Committee on Public Safety and Housing and Housing Finance Division on Thursday, December 17, 1998. Please include this letter in the official record.

I know, without any doubt, that Minneapolis provides a different standard of protection to its poorer, inner city neighborhoods than to its whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. I know because I own rental property in an inner city neighborhood and live in a wealthier southwest Minneapolis neighborhood and I know because I have worked with Minneapolis police.

Let me tell you three stories and then I will point out my conclusions about these stories.

The first story is about a tenant of mine, Blas. Blas likes to tell me about the drug dealing he sees around my building, especially how dealers use the corner pay phone. He seems to enjoy showing me that he has figured out how drug dealers work. H tells me that this people (meaning others from Mexico) do not want to live in the neighborhood (Whittier) because it's not safe. Blas hopes to make enough money to move his family to a safer place. I ask him if he calls 911. He says no and shrugs his shoulders. i tell him he should, that this is what people do when they see trouble. He says calling is a waste of time.

The second story is about another tenant, Manuel. His car was stolen from my parking lot three weeks ago. He and I talk about this, and it turns out that two men, not from the neighborhood, routinely walk through the alley most early mornings checking out cars and buildings. Manuel thinks these two stole his car. I ask if he calls 911. Manuel looks at me as though this is a completely foreign idea - which it probably is. Manuel grew up in Nicaragua during the war and is probably lucky to be alive. I tell Manuel he should use 911. He smiles and asks me to talk to the police instead. I doubt if Manuel will ever call the police. It makes no sense to him.

The third story is an experience of mine. Two months ago I was approached by two men selling drugs in my parking lot. This is at 4:00 on a weekday afternoon. I said “not interested”, hid behind a car, and called 911 on my cell phone. All the while I answered the operator’s questions, I watched the pair walk down the alley trying to sell others as though they were welling hot dogs at a ball game. Thirty minutes later, still no police, but a friend of mine joins me. The dealers are still hanging out across the alley. My friend calls 911 on his cell phone. Finally, at 5:30 I’m ready to leave. The drug dealers are still across the alley, still selling. No police. For one and a half hours, by my watch, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m., no police. I doubt if they came.

Do you think this kind of police protection would be acceptable in southwest Minneapolis where I live? It would not. Earlier this summer kids rummaged through unlocked garages in my alley. My neighbors and the police treated it as a major crime wave.

I conclude from these and other similar experiences:

1. There is a differential in levels of safety and police protection between poorer and wealthier neighborhoods.

2. Unsafe neighborhoods are undesirable; neighborhoods such as Phillips and Whittier are considered places to leave, not places to live. Population turnover destabilizes and further degrades such neighborhoods; private investment, both commercial and residential, declines, creating further neighborhood degradation.

3. People in inner neighborhoods do not squeak: that is, they do not call the police, either because they think it is futile (and there is ample reason to believe that calling the police is futile), or because calling the police is inconsistent with their culture.

4. The police respond to things that squeak; the inner city doesn’t squeak, and even when it squeaks, the police do not respond because ultimately the inner city doesn’t squeak much. Blas, Manuel, and hundreds like them who are the majority in inner city neighborhoods will rarely call 911, and never testify at a legislative committee. The majority who will consistently call or who will testify are too few to be heard.

I am hopeful that you will listen to those who testify, review the evidence provided by Sen. Ranum and Rep. Wagenius, and conclude that, first, Minneapolis leadership lacks the political will to solve its crime problem and, second, that State action is therefore absolutely imperative.

Such action will require money. I have a suggestion for you about money, and I also have a warning. First the warning.

Minneapolis will tell you it already has a program to make the police more accessible to inner city citizens and to promote safety. It’s called CCP/SAFE (otherwise known as “community police”). Please respect my long and intimate experiences concerning CCP/SAFE. CCP/SAFE is a useless program; it is a lie. CCP/SAFE should be dissolved. Minneapolis spends roughly $4 to $5 million annually on CCP/SAFE. This money, and most especially any State funds, should be reallocated to providing resources which exclusively target the pervasive and endemic crime problems in inner neighborhoods.

I tell you this about CCP/SAFE not because I have been in trouble with those people; in fact, no one has any complaints about my property. I tell you this about CCP/SAFE from my experiences as former chair of the Whittier Alliance rental property owners group. in that capacity i and two other Whittier board members approached CCP/SAFE with specific recommendations to forge a closer, cooperative relationship with CCP/SAFE and two Whittier Alliance citizen committees. We were rebuffed, first by the CCP/SAFE team, then by CCP/SAFE management. As we persisted in our recommendations, we were lied to, and some of us felt were were subject to retaliation. When we complained to the mayor and police chief, we received a letter criticizing us for criticizing CCP/SAFE ...

(B)ecause my wife and I were so completely shocked and appalled by what we learned about police and city leadership, we decided that even our neighborhood may not be safe. Accordingly, we began looking for buildable land elsewhere. We finally chose Missouri near Springfield, and we have signed an agreement to to purchase 32 acres overlooking the Niangua river valley ...

Minneapolis leadership is quick to blame rental owners for neighborhood crime problems and exhorts rental owners to be involved. I was involved, but because of CCP/SAFE and Minneapolis leadership, i am now becoming the typical uninvolved absentee owner. If Minneapolis fails to redirect its resources to assure citizen safety, I will become the ultimate absentee owner. i will hire a property management company, and Minneapolis can send its notices to me at Camdenton, Missouri 65020. My wife and I will become another example of white flight, pushed out by the city’s neglect of its citizens and their right to public safety.


Thomas A. Manion

Tom Manion was not a member of Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee but, rather, of the Whittier Alliance property owners group, a more respectable neighborhood organization. This type of landlord believed in working with the city on common problems. Manion's letter to a legislative committee was taken by MPRAC members to mean that even the "good landlords" had given up on Minneapolis city government and its police bureaucracy.


"Donna Ellringer's 109-year-old, nine-bedroom Victorian manion at 1823 Park Avenue South has seen better days ... Across the street, a steady procession of drug deals is going down on the front step; three or four an hour, even in the dead of winter. It's worse in the summer, when Park Avenue becomes a 24-hour bazaar of open-air prostitution, curbside drug dealing and drive-by shootings. About the only thing not visible from 1823 Park is a police officer putting a stop to any of this." - Washington Post, Jauary 5, 1997.

A few doors down from Ellringer's house is a house made famous by the fact that, when John Dillinger was shot in St. Paul in the 1930s, a doctor who owned the house treated his wounds there. The well-known gangster spent several days on the mend at this Park Avenue address, adding historical significance to it. "That's nothing," said Mel Gregerson, owner of an apartment building across the street. "If you want to see gangsters, just look in the vacant lot next to the house." It was a favorite spot for drug dealing.


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