Longtime dedication to public safety culminates in work at Midtown Safety Center
February 23, 2006—Renee Allen may be new to South Minneapolis but she’s no stranger to the challenges of involving the community in improving public safety. More than a decade ago, the mother of two left a suburban lifestyle in Coon Rapids for the McKinley neighborhood on Minneapolis’ north side. She wanted to fix up an old house and expose her kids to the kind of tight-knit neighborhood life she’d experienced growing up in St. Paul. What she encountered flew beyond her expectations.
"When we moved in 12 years ago it was a trial by fire," said Allen. “The crime was terrible, but there was a core of people who really cared enough to take action.”
Allen became involved with the neighborhood association and helped establish the police substation at Lowry-Emerson that became the model for the Franklin Ave. Safety Center. She went back to school and graduated in 2003 with a degree in law enforcement. She also trained as an EMT.
Now, as the civilian Crime Prevention Specialist who staffs the Midtown Safety Center for the Minneapolis Police Department, Allen says she has caught the spirit of South Minneapolis in a big way.
"It's so exciting to be a part of the neighborhood's success. You see more and more signs of progress, and you know it will really flourish. It's wonderful."
What’s more, says Allen, contributing to public safety at Chicago-Lake has become a family affair. One of her sons has begun work as a security guard at the Midtown Exchange while he completes the application process for the Minneapolis Fire Department.
Interview with Renee Allen
PP: What is your background as a Crime Prevention Specialist?
RA: I began community involvement a little more than 12 years ago when I moved back to the inner city and into the McKinley neighborhood of North Minneapolis. As a representative of McKinley, I was involved in the opening of the Lowry Emerson Police Substation (which later became a model for the Franklin Ave Safety Center and subsequently the Midtown Safety Center).
I managed the substation as an MPD Program Assistant, serving the needs of five north-side neighborhoods. My responsibilities included recruiting, training and coordinating a broad base of volunteers for large community outreach events that were planned and implemented through the substation. It functioned as a referral resource for the community and was successful in developing programs and opportunities for positive interaction between police and community.
Once I became a Crime Prevention Specialist in the SAFE unit, I worked in the Jordan neighborhood with my sworn police partner along with community residents and neighborhood leaders. Our efforts were coordinated with other city departments and social service agencies to address livability and safety in a diverse and challenged part of the city.
I am a registered EMT and have a degree in Law Enforcement. Other training includes MPD bicycle certification; mediation/conflict resolution; diversity; CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design); physical violence (elder abuse, schools and sexual violence, strangulation and domestic violence); restorative justice; and community empowerment.
PP: Describe a typical week's activity at the Midtown Safety Center
RA: I guess that’s what I like most about working with the community for the Police Department. There isn’t a typical day. There are so many elements that can change the make-up of any given week. Having spent so many years on the north side, one of my biggest challenges is learning names, faces and the lay of the land on the south side. I am attending as many outside meetings as my time will allow to simply meet people and learn about the tremendous amount of work that has already been done here.
Squads [police officers] are in and out of Safety Center a dozen times a day to look up information, write reports or take breaks. There will be more activity be in a couple weeks when the first of two county probation officers moves in. When police and probation have this common venue, they can communicate much better about chronic offenders and overall enforcement will be more effective as a result.
I’m attending Chi-Lake Business Association meetings and see a lot of several of the local business owners -- Roberts Shoes, Sunny's, Chicago Lake Florist. Mark Simon of Roberts Shoes has mentioned he has seen a positive difference with the increased police presence.
Currently the meeting room is being used a few times a week by members of the community – block clubs, planning committees and involvement groups. I would like to see that number significantly increase. I consider my position at the Midtown Safety Center as very special and unique. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with the community on a more casual level. The Safety Center is such a warm and welcoming space. The police officers are comfortable here, probation officers will be moving in soon, and each week the number of people stopping in is increasing. Personal interaction is a key component. The success of this facility will continue to be built on communication, cooperation and collaboration from all involved in its creation and subsequent programming and outreach. I enjoy coming to work, but would love to go home in the evening and say, “Wow, did I have a busy day!”
PP: Describe an instance that you feel best represents the benefit of the Safety Center to the Chi-Lake community.
RA: I am sure there will be many stories with significant human-interest drama as the history of the Safety Center grows. This is Lake and Chicago, one of the busiest, most diverse intersections in the city. Purely by location alone, the Safety Center will have a position and impact in those stories. But the benefit of the Safety Center is revealed more in the small, seemingly unremarkable incidents that are addressed on a daily basis. It may be the elderly gentleman that just needed a place to sit for a few minutes before continuing his trek home, someone that missed a meeting but still wanted the materials covered the night before, a young girl just needing to use the phone because she missed her ride, a woman needing directions or a copy of a police report, a frustrated father that just wanted to talk to an officer for a minute about his rebellious teen or members of the community coming together for a block club meeting. These are the pieces that really only benefit that one person, at that one time, but when assembled as a whole, is significant to the Chi-Lake community, because it is the community.
PP: What changes or improvements are you looking forward to in terms of the Safety Center's function and community relations?
RA: We recently assembled a stellar group of community people to form our advisory council and represent the diverse population in the Safety Center’s service area. This group will help decide the direction for the outreach and programming of the Safety Center. My personal hope is that we focus on our young people. We can envision and work toward great things for this community but if we do not include the next generation and also learn what their concerns and ideas are, we are missing the point. Our future is theirs. The connection between youth and the police is also so very fragile and distrustful. I’d like to see every effort made to strengthen and foster a positive relationship with our young community. I am looking forward to the Safety Center being recognized by the whole community (residents of all ages, visitors, businesses and corporations) as a destination point. I really want to promote the idea of police and community coming together to address common goals in a comfortable, relaxed and non-threatening environment.
PP: What would you like people to know about the Safety Center that they many not know?
RA: We are here and available. You don’t need to have a problem to stop in. If you do have a question or concern, I will do my best to find an answer or solution, and if I can’t, I will help locate someone who can. We also have Latino and Somali Crime Prevention Specialists on staff to help overcome cultural and language barriers. All are welcome at the Midtown Safety Center; we are located at 2949 Chicago Ave. and our phone number is 612-825-6138.
Midtown Safety Center Advisory Council
Del Holmes - Midtown Phillips neighborhood resident
Mr. and Mrs Scarver - Central neighborhood resident
Shirley Heyer - Midtown Phillips neighborhood resident
Verge Granger - West Phillips resident
Tiffany Green/Robert Lilligren - Ward 6, Minneapolis City Council
Patricia Brown - Midtown Global Market
Inspector Scott Gerlicher - MPD
Lieutenant Sally Weddel - MPD
John Reed - Crime Prevention Specialist for Latino Community
Shirlee Stone/Carla Nielson - Franklin Safety Center/AINDC
Craig Vos/Simeon Wagner - Hennepin County Probation
Therese Rau - Hennepin County Probation
Mick Sandin - Hennepin County Probation
Jamal James - Circle of Disipline
Amy Reise - Katahdin
Sheryl Kabat - Central Weed and Seed
Jana Metge - Phillips Weed and Seed
Elena Gaarder - Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association
Jose Diaz - Latino Economic Development Center
Joyce Wisdom - Lake Street Council
Susie Helget - Phillips Partnership
For more information, contact Crime Prevention Specialist Renee Allen at 612-825-6138.