Letter to new Police Chief William McManus

March 31, 2004

Chief William McManus
Minneapolis Police Department
City Hall
350 S. Fifth Street
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Dear Chief McManus:

I am a Minneapolis landlord who owns property in the Harrison neighborhood. I am writing in response to an article which appeared recently in the Star Tribune regarding a citizens policy board and your plans to fight crime. The gist of the article was that you plan to focus more on the small group of hard-core criminals or law breakers who live in the city and also upon properties, sometimes called “problem properties”, where crime occurs. It was the second which caught my eye.

From a landlord’s perspective, the relationship between Minneapolis landlords and the city’s police force has historically been poor. It has, however, improved with the change in city administration that came with the 2001 election. Landlords have felt that they have been systematically blamed for crime and the police did not help. If focusing on “problem properties” means a reversion to “the bad old days”, I am concerned.

In the bad old days, neighborhood crime fighting centered on “crime and safety committees” of the neighborhood associations. Typically, committee members would sit down with community police - representatives of Community Crime Prevention, SAFE - to discuss what could be done about the “problem properties” in the neighborhood. What kind of leverage did the city have against the landlords? Often, its leverage lay in the use of inspections to cite the properties with “building code violations” or even condemn these buildings. If enough financial pain could be inflicted on the landlord, he might sell the property or close it down. Then crime presumably would go away.

The theory was that the property owner or manager - not the criminal himself - was responsible for crime because, being the greedy individual that he was, he would accept anyone as a tenant who had the rent money and not do the proper screening. He was bringing criminals into the neighborhood. Therefore, punish the evil landlord.

The Minneapolis police had an incentive to perpetuate this myth because it diverted attention away from their own poor performance in fighting crime. Unscrupulous City Council members curried favor with neighborhood groups by pointing the finger at landlords. Underneath this was an undercurrent of belief within neighborhod groups that one could make money by ruining particular landlords. If a landlord could be made to forfeit properties, the city might pick them up and give neighborhood groups some say in their disposition. Maybe the distressed landlord could be panicked into selling for pennies on the dollar.

Because City Council members had much power to decide inspections practice, the potential for corruption was great. In fact, two out of the thirteen previous City Council members were sent to federal prison for housing-related corruption. There was an unholy alliance in this mixing of housing and crime issues between (1) the City Council member, (2) the neighborhood association or block club, (3) Minneapolis inspections, and (4) CCP-SAFE. The politically isolated landlords could be picked off individually for profit and fun.

What happened is that the inner-city landlords in Minneapolis organized to fight the city. I was part of this group. We sued the city, carried on protest actions, and acquired our own newspaper and cable-television show. Our efforts culminated in the replacement of the mayor and seven of thirteen City Council members in the 2001 city elections. We gave free air time on our cable show to many of the successful challengers. City government is now far more respectful of our interests and the Inspections department has improved. Also, we developed good relationships with individual police officials, such as Tim Dolan, though not with the former chief. Underneath it all, however, lies the old political culture, centering in CCP-SAFE, which threatens to bring back the old system.

What I would like to see is a true dialogue between the Minneapolis Police Department and the city’s landlords. We have a common interest in needing to deal with the city’s population of criminals. ( Minnesota has the nation’s lowest incarceration rate, so many who commit crimes here remain on the streets.) Let’s work together on this problem. From a landlord’s perspective, I see the police as our community’s crime-fighting experts. We landlords want the police to tell us who the criminals are and what we can do about their activities.

When Mayor Rybak was running for office, our group gave him a detailed list of issues and concerns relating to landlords and the city. From my standpoint, this could be used as a starting point in discussions between the two groups. What are our mutual rights and responsibilities in dealing with crime? What procedures can we landlords follow in responding to criminal activity?

I have to say that crime in my particular neighborhood - along Glenwood Avenue - seems to be getting worse. The same drug dealers are there. A tenant of mine who helped clean up the building across the street told me that when he recently tried to enlist the help of a Minneapolis police officer in trespassing a known offender from the building, the officer flatly refused to help. When this man told the officer that Inspector Dolan had promised to help, he was told that Tim Dolan was no longer in charge of the 4th precinct. Presumably, the police are no longer interested in cooperating with landlords. I have seen this attitude in a number of officers - not all, but a minority. They seem to want to be paid but not do police work. Landlords, in particular, are beneath them.

I write this in the context of your setting new policies for the police department. Don’t let the old culture of apathy and corruption take charge again. Look to the landlord community to establishing a cooperative and productive relationship. We want to be your allies, not your adversaries.


William McGaughey


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