Minneapolis nuisances: Ten criminals who won't go away

Beat cops reveal who causes the most headache in the city's neighborhoods

On the day before Thanksgiving in 1997, Jana Metge left her home in the Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis and headed for Iowa. She ate with her parents, slept over for a few days, then returned Sunday.

When Metge opened the front door of her lovingly restored home, she faced her worst nightmare: Graffiti marred the walls; feces smeared the floor; semen stained her curtains and towels. The home was gutted—virtually every valuable item had been carried away. The upstairs bath had overflowed and the house had suffered major water damage. Her cat had been tortured and her kitten was missing. And three strangers—two men and a woman—were squatting inside.

"What are you doing in this house?" Metge screamed at them. "This is my house!"


SLIDESHOW: The Offenders

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Is targeting chronic offenders unethical?

MAP: Where do they hang out?

View Minneapolis nuisances: 10 criminals who won't go away in a larger map

"What do you mean?" one of the invaders responded. "We were told the person who lived here is dead."

Metge yelled at them to get out.

As they calmly left, the invaders strolled past the backpack she'd just put down on the front porch. It contained her wallet, credit cards, and glasses. They casually picked it up and walked away.

They'd stolen $9,000 worth of her belongings, and caused $13,000 in damage to her house. And now Metge didn't even have an I.D.

There had been other home takeovers in Phillips. But this time, the riff-raff messed with the wrong woman. As director of the Central Neighborhood Improvement Association, Metge had dedicated her life to cleaning up crime-ridden neighborhoods. She wasn't about to let this slide.

Metge took her case to court, where Terry McMorris, a 27-year-old thug who had plagued the neighborhood for years, was sentenced to three years in prison.

"We can't have folks that are chronically offending, or harassing visitors in downtown," Metge says. "Or doing open-air drug-dealing on Bloomington Avenue."

Metge and other activists pushed the city to focus on chronic crime. Together, they developed a neighborhood court-watch program—a way for city attorneys, judges, cops, and residents to keep in touch about repeat offenders.

These jokers aren't exactly criminal masterminds.

"We're talking about people who just make things miserable," says Minneapolis Police Sgt. William Palmer. "It's always been said that there's a very small number of people within any community that cause most of your headaches."

Minneapolis keeps track of the top 200. They are alcoholics and drug addicts, mentally ill and homeless, prostitutes and wife-beaters. Chronic offenders cost residents not only quality of life, but also taxes spent on police, prosecutors, and courts.

"There's a core group in every neighborhood that seem to be causing everyone stress," says Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher, adding that the criminal justice system spends "tens of thousands of dollars for each of these offenders each year."

One Hennepin County study estimates that, over the years, the 33 chronic offenders who operate downtown have cost the city a total of $3.7 million in law enforcement, court time, social services, and hospital fees. A workup and overnight stay at Hennepin County Medical Center costs $2,800. A night at Hennepin County Jail costs $363. A night spent sobering up at detox costs $192.

"These minor criminals who are doing stuff all the time cost us more than people who shoot people," says Minneapolis Police Lt. Dean Christensen.

A few years back, former City Attorney Jay Heffern decided to focus on livability crimes. Now, three city attorneys and a paralegal work full-time on nuisance offenders.

"These chronics are the ones who cause the problems and really impact city residents' ability to enjoy and live in their neighborhoods," says the current city attorney, Susan Segal. "If we can make some progress on those people, we're having a real impact."

From January to October last year, livability crimes constituted 43 percent of the city attorney's caseload—about 12,000 cases. While not all the cases were the handiwork of chronics, by 2008 the city's top 200 had contributed more than their unfair share: 8,077 crimes.

"Your livability crimes are nonstop," says Officer David Queen, who patrols downtown. "It's not like if you murder somebody, and all of a sudden you're gone for a while. It seems like you have to be arrested a number of times before something happens."

Serious crime—assault, murder, and rape—is down in Minneapolis, so cops have more time to focus on petty offenders—the ones who make the top 200 list.

"As you can imagine, the cops who have to deal with this over and over again, who may not have the overall picture on a day-to-day basis, think, 'What's wrong with the system?'" says Sgt. Greg Reinhardt, a veteran and former beat cop.

The city's list of the top 200 isn't ranked, so isolating the top 10 took some research. City Pages interviewed more than two dozen law enforcement sources—beat cops from each precinct, police brass, crime prevention specialists, public defenders, and the city attorney—and pored over more than 1,200 arrest reports to compile this list.

To be included, offenders had to be notorious, annoying, and still active in the community. They may not be the most dangerous or even the most prolific, but these are the people who continue to make life miserable for their neighbors.

Next Page »