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What to do about the predatory drunks of Stevens Square?

Steven Square's top 17 offenders have 101 arrests for public consumption, open bottle, aggressive panhandling, public urination, indecent exposure, and assault.

Steven Square's top 17 offenders have 101 arrests for public consumption, open bottle, aggressive panhandling, public urination, indecent exposure, and assault. Kurt Bauschardt

Stevens Square has a problem with public intoxication, aggressive panhandling, and drifting groups of men who sexually harass women up and down the street.

These men tend to crowd the bus shelters. They usually don’t even live in Stevens Square, and they don’t want help getting off the streets from St. Stephen’s Human Services volunteers for the homeless. According to Tonya Lenox of the homelessness nonprofit’s street outreach team, the way the men camp out on the corner of Lyndale and Hennepin avenues, shaking down pedestrians, makes St. Stephen’s regular clientele look bad.

Over the past 10 years, police have made 2,950 arrests and citations for alcohol-rated crimes in this dense urban enclave. Every year crime decreases, a result of sending first-time offenders to restorative justice programs and jailing the repeat ones.

But last year, the Hennepin County District Court ordered that police can no longer throw people in jail for certain misdemeanor offenses like “consuming alcohol in public” and “loitering with an open bottle” without making a separate request to charge them by complaint. It now depends on the arrestee to pay a fine or go to court. If the arrestee chooses not to respond at all, there are no consequences.

As a result, the Stevens Square Community Organization fears there’s nothing to hold chronic offenders accountable – the 17 repeat drunks who have been arrested a total of 101 times since January 1, 2015.

The Stevens Square Community Organization is asking the court to rescind its earlier order and restore the authority of police officers to book alcoholics in jail.  

During a community meeting last week, Matt Wilcox of the City Attorney's Office argued that the county jail is overcrowded, and the decision to make misdemeanor alcohol-related crimes “payable” offenses came out of concern for minorities and the mentally ill.