THE FEBRUARY DEBUT of a local monthly newspaper promises to deliver new hope to frustrated vigilantes. The Twin Cities Crusader, an offshoot of a Tampa, Florida, monthly that hails itself as "America's first anti-crime newspaper," will bring its unique brand of urban justice to the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul on February 23.
The first paper in the Crusader chain--which is now in some 29 cities across the nation--was launched in Tampa in 1992. According to Ken Donovan, founder and editor of the Bay Area Crusader, the impetus for its creation was the victimization of some friends. In one instance, a wheelchair-bound neighbor was accosted and robbed by three youths. Shortly afterward a friend of his was robbed, beaten and raped after she stopped to make a phone call at a local convenience store. "And this was in a 'good' neighborhood," he offers. "I wanted to stop them [criminals] from walking among us."
An actor by trade, Donovan's only experience with criminal elements appears to have been his roles in a handful of B-movies like Chain Gang and Rearview Mirror. But he believed his program "is so simple, it's hard to fail." Working in conjunction with local and federal law enforcement agencies, Donovan began to publish information on criminals with ties to the Tampa community. The Crusader papers are basically a print version of America's Most Wanted: Each criminal feature includes a mug shot, composite drawing, or general description, and a laundry list of the individual's wrongdoings. Under each picture is the name and phone number of the agent assigned to the case. Community members armed with this information would then be on the lookout for the bad guys, spot them, and turn them in to the authorities.
In addition to rap sheet rundowns, the paper also prints photos of missing children, a column written by contributing FBI agents, and a "call to arms" column by Donovan. "I picture myself as a patriot," Donovan proclaims. "This is a Constitution-based paper. Criminals are traitors to our country. They are cowards who want to be viewed as martyrs."
Undoubtedly the most controversial aspect of his paper is the publication of the names and addresses of sex offenders--particularly child molesters-- released back into the community. "It was a hard call," Donovan states. "I did a lot of soul-searching before I decided to publish this kind of information.... [The offenders] deserve our pity, but not our children."
Twin Cities Crusade editors Craig Johnson and Tom Hines say they haven't decided whether they will include sex offender information in their publication. "We might try it," says Hines, "but it's not as cut-and-dried as other criminal information." Like Donovan, Hines and Johnson are newcomers to publishing; they are home health care aides by trade. "We saw Donovan on CNBC, and decided it looked like a good idea, says Johnson. "We called him up, sent him $500 to join the network, and received a kit with a manual detailing how to put this together."
Revenue for a Crusader paper is generated through ad sales, and Hines and Johnson say that although they are meeting with a fair amount of success from such local businesses as locksmiths and security companies, they have not yet succeeded in tapping into more traditional businesses. And Johnson says that cooperation with local authorities "has been slow." The editors are actively courting local law enforcement agencies, and hope to convince either the Hennepin or Ramsey County sheriff to pen a regular column. (Egan)