Off Beat

Controlled Substance

"Minnesotans love drugs," proclaimed Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson last week.

Olson was unveiling his latest report on gang activity around the city, in front of about 100 people at the Richard Green Elementary School gym in south Minneapolis. After 30 minutes of audience questions, he had run out of concrete answers as to why gangs persist in Minneapolis. Also, he may have been a bit exasperated: Olson gave nearly the exact same spiel back in July in nearby Powderhorn Park.

The difference this time was that Mayor R. T. Rybak, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, and city council members Gary Schiff and Robert Lilligren were there, as well. The high-profile murder of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards has renewed the public vogue for speaking out against gangs, and Olson promised to respond with a "statewide gang initiative."

Specific policing strategies were kept hush-hush, but Captain Stacy Altonen delivered a pertinent update: Homicides are holding steady (45 this year as compared to 43 last year), but more than half of them have been confirmed as gang-related. Altonen likewise claimed that crack, meth, pot, and heroin are flooding the city at an alarming rate.

Or at least the police are sniffing out more of it. The undercurrent of the forum was that a nationwide gang crackdown is coming to Minneapolis. Olson noted that a spike in gang violence this year in Los Angeles and Oakland was bound have repercussions here. Meanwhile, many are starting to wonder whether a growing wave of anti-gang rhetoric all across the country is in part an effort to breathe more life and urgency into the U.S.'s new homeland security apparatus. The information-sharing capacity will be there: the MPD plans to share gang databases with the city attorney's office, Hennepin County, and the FBI.

Ron Ryan, commander of the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, a coalition of police agencies that tracks gang activity statewide, was on hand to announce that Olson had promised to reinstate six Minneapolis police officers he had pulled from the Strike Force earlier in the year. For a year, Ryan has complained that budget cuts and post-9/11 distractions have depleted the statewide gang unit.

Those days, apparently, are over. "I gotta say, I feel badly that it takes the death of an innocent kid to get us charged up again," Ryan said, cutting straight to the heart of the renewed interest in his agency.

Olson singled out the Edwards murder investigation as a watershed for his department. "We picked up a significant amount of gang-intelligence leads," the chief claimed. "Now we have strategies to make it less likely to happen again." --G. R. Anderson Jr.


The Christmas Bitch

We had heard the rumors before, perpetrated by musicians who have gigged with the department store pianist turned yuletide staple. But we just couldn't believe it. This was Lorie Line, after all: that suburban diva who plays like George Winston and dresses like a drag queen on the lam from Branson, Missouri; an entrepreneur who has released 18 albums, sold five million recordings, and published 13 books; the loving wife and mother of two who finds time to manage her own website, where fans can read "Lorie Line's Steps to Managing a Busy Career While Keeping a Relationship with Your Children" (remember: if your spouse works, make sure to hire a housekeeper, a yard person, and a dry-cleaning pick-up service). That anyone, even the bitter elves who scurry behind the scenes of her annual holiday pageant, would have reason to call her The Christmas Bitch--well, it just seemed so incongruous.

Last week, though, we got wind of a little dustup that has us wondering whether Line needs to work on her anger management skills. Jon Bream of the Star Tribune wrote a middling review of Line's current Christmas show, which played 13 times at the Historic State Theatre and is now on a 26-city tour. He concluded that the 44-year-old star who "tries to be all things to all people" should "dramatically rethink her concept for next year's extravaganza." Line and her husband/business partner Tim posted Bream's review on their website along with the writer's e-mail address, imploring the faithful to register their displeasure. They also fired off a missive to the Strib, demanding that the show be reviewed again and that they be granted an audience with the paper's editorial muckety-mucks.

Susie Eaton Hopper, the paper's assistant managing editor for features, says the Lines came in on Friday for a 15-minute meeting, which was also attended by Strib Managing Editor Scott Gillespie. The musical couple wondered whether Bream, who has written extensively about Line over the years, could be banned from the beat. But Hopper says she and Gillespie were "very clear" that those sorts of decisions would not be subject to negotiation. "They were very, very nice," Hopper stresses. "Everyone was cordial."

Bream, seemingly pleased not to have been asked to the powwow, says he was not surprised by the Lines' reaction. He also notes that the piece kicked up just 12 critical responses ("I get more e-mails every day about the comics page," Hopper observes). "I just tell people to look at their ticket prices," Bream says in his defense. "I judge a performer based on the pretext of their ticket prices. When you charge 40 or 50 dollars a ticket, then we'll hold you to the standard that we hold other people who charge that same price. And that's what I did." --David Schimke

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