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Duluth aka The Legion of Doom

*picture not really from newspaper. i just needed an excuse to post it

On the front cover of today's Star Tribune.

Duluth 'just a different town nowadays

Gangs, drugs and fewer cops have bred a 20 percent increase in crime in the city.

DULUTH - Jennifer Randa didn't need to see the official numbers released this month by the Duluth Police Department: crime up nearly 20 percent from 2004 to 2005, with drug crime more than doubling and violent crimes up by 32 percent.

From the Union Gospel Mission, where she helps provide meals and clothing to the homeless, Randa monitors the daily fistfights and street prostitution, the bustling drug trade and random vandalism sapping life in the city's Central Hillside neighborhood.

"My son is 19," she said. "He's in school, studying to be a police officer.

"He was getting dropped off the other night after studying at a friend's house, and a guy came running at the car with a gun in his hand."

Her son and his friend drove off, she said. He called her later to say he would stay at the friend's house rather than risk another attempt to come home.

A month before, he was working at a gas station when it was robbed.

"I like to take a walk every day," Randa said, glancing at the mission door, thinking about the scenic harbor view from the streets on the hillside above, a view many consider one of the northern Minnesota city's premier attractions.

"But I'm scared to take my walk anymore," she said.

Less community policing

Tim Hanson, a 27-year veteran of the Duluth Police Department, took over as chief last week -- just in time to acknowledge the spiking crime statistics, which came after four years of declines.

From 2001 to 2004, crime fell 8.5 percent. Violent crime was down nearly 14 percent in the city of 87,000 people.

"Duluth had been making great strides in hiring officers who were assigned to identifying problems, identifying problem people and identifying problem areas," Hanson said. "It's called community policing, and it works."

But a citywide budget squeeze forced the department to trim its ranks and pull officers out of community policing, reassigning them to patrol and other duties.

"Duluth is definitely seeing more crimes involving drugs, more crimes involving gangs and more crimes related to those activities," Hanson said.

Assaults, robberies and burglaries all spiked in 2005, and indications are that the trends are continuing this year -- thanks in part to Shaune Aleck St. Germaine.

St. Germaine, 20, was free on bail on a burglary charge when he was arrested last week on two more burglary charges. Police suspect him in a dozen home invasions, especially worrisome because people were at home in many cases.

One crime statistic improved from 2004 to 2005: Sexual assaults were down, which authorities credited to more aggressive investigation, prosecution and sentencing.

More affordable housing and job opportunities would bring other criminal activity down, said Sharen Bergren, office manager at the Union Gospel Mission.

"People are frustrated," she said.

"There are no options for them. It's just a different town nowadays. The thing with the newer people -- we tell them they can't fight in here, but they don't seem to care."

Expanding drug trade

Much of Duluth's new crime involves turf struggles and carryover bad blood among gang members relocated to Duluth from the Twin Cities and beyond, Chief Hanson said.

"It's the drug wealth looking for new territories," he said.

For the average, law-abiding citizen, "this is still a pretty safe town," he said. But he acknowledges that it feels less safe.

"We're budgeting now for 2007, and the City Council and mayor are getting plenty of input on what people expect in policing," he said. "I'm hopeful we'll turn this around. I'm confident this is a blip."

He has 132 sworn officers, 14 fewer than authorized -- and 40 fewer than the number he needs to avoid pulling officers out of community policing.

Jim Rodman, a community officer assigned to neighborhoods in Duluth's west end, has had to break off that work frequently.

"This end of town always had a 'tough' reputation," said Rodman, who grew up in west Duluth. "But it has more rental properties now, and people don't know each other as well.

"It has become more violent. There are more drugs. We've had a string of burglaries in one neighborhood where, for 20 years, there was virtually no crime of that type."

Patrol is vital police duty, Rodman said, "but patrol officers don't go to community meetings. People here know me by my first name. They count on me to take care of their problems personally."

Walking without fear

Rhonda Johnson, 41, out for a noontime walk with a friend on a residential street overlooking downtown Duluth and the harbor, said the city should require landlords to screen tenants more carefully.

"I don't think it's [reached the point] where it's dangerous to move here," she said. "I don't see innocent people getting killed. Mostly it's people involved with drugs and other crime retaliating against people they know.

"I don't really fear for my safety here."

But a few blocks away, at the 4th Street Market in Duluth's Central Hillside neighborhood, Roxanne Kelly said she started tracking a change more than a year ago.

"I spend more time now wondering what I need to do to make myself safer," she said.

Kaye Dupuis works with Kelly at the market. "I think it's all the punks running around -- young kids the parents aren't controlling," she said.

But Terence Callender, 44, who moved to Central Hillside two years ago from St. Paul, said the spike in crime statistics "is just the police harassing people" in poor areas.

Shalen Hendricks, 20, another Central Hillside resident, said she and her daughter have their own way of avoiding problems.

"I keep in my house," she said. "And I don't have anything to steal."

Chuck Haga • 612-673-4514 • [email protected]


i've seen all this with my own eyes - go to amyabts.com for my latest blog post on crime in duluth.

man I'm glad I got out of that shithole and moved to LA

i don't understand how a spike in crime statistics could stem from "just the police harrassing people in poor areas". what the hell could that mean? anybody?

I don't understand how the Hip Hop Candy Shop could possibly be a front for drugs.

barrett...apparently, the owner of the shop has a record for distribution. wether that's the case now?

if you ask some, it's all those "bus tickets" we buy for gang members and welfare moms to move here from Chicago.

just mention it on the duluth citizens blog, they'll give you LOTS of input.

duh, barrett. everyone knows candy=drugs. just ask willie wonka.

I was referring to and getting my information from Amy's post.

thanks for the link, barrett. i need a 'puter tutorial.

tutti my fruity

One West and Four is the latest high-drug area in town, especially the apartments above the Hip-Hop and the apartments across the street. As a cabdriver, I have been to that corner many, many times. I feel sorry for the old people who live around there. There are a lot of them.

Those people down in Minneapolis really have no biz commenting on Duluth. After all according to our local Army recruiter Minneapolis is more dangerous than Iraq.

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