Graffiti Vandals

August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dear Gladys,

Neighborhood eyesore left behind

My neighborhood recently got hit with a rash of graffiti. Do the police ever catch these vandals? And are there any real consequences or do they just get slapped on the wrist?

(By guest contributor Christina Majaski)

There are a number of reasons that there seem to be no real consequences for graffiti vandals. The first one being, that those who choose to spray their 3rd grade splatterings across other people’s property are often seen as “expressing themselves” in some kind of artistic manner. In reality, these “artists” are not creating Banksy-like art, but are actually graffiti vandals that are damaging other people’s property, which incidentally is a crime.

Art is subjective. A perfect example would be the 13+ victims that woke up to their garages painted last week. I’d bet my entire nail polish collection, that these people were not oohing and aaahing at the artistic nature of their garage’s new facades. Instead, these victims must now either repaint and somehow recover their garages. Or, ignore it and let their garage continue to look as though a huge dodo bird flew over during the night, while unloading a bunch of skittles. My guess is that most residents of the community will choose to repaint or repair (and are actually obligated to, by law.)

Repainting may seem a simple remedy, until you consider that the cost to taxpayers by way of insurance costs, property damage costs and removal of graffiti in the U.S. totals at least 12 billion dollars a year. This is of course, without even exploring the possibility of a decrease in property value that is usually associated with neighborhoods and communities that are graffiti ridden. What’s the first thing you think of when you see graffiti? Nothing good, is my guess.

Graffiti vandalism is damage to property. According to Minn. Stat. § 609.595 and as Heidi Johnston, Assistant Minneapolis City Attorney explained, “Damage under $500 is a misdemeanor level offense, damage under $1000 is a gross misdemeanor, and damage of more than $1000 is a felony.”

In order to prosecute for property damage, a documented loss is required, meaning the owner must be a willing participant in the prosecution. The State has to prove who did the damage, but the amount of the damage must be proven as well. The State will also allow the property owner time to calculate the total amount of damage according to the cost and labor required for removal of the graffiti.

Which brings us to the main reason it seems that graffiti vandals are not prosecuted: homeowners and victims must participate in the prosecution and come forward with the cost of damages. Many residents choose to take it upon themselves to just repair the damage according to the City’s ordinances, and move on hoping it doesn’t happen again. The truth however, is that there is a good chance it will and no one wants to repaint their garage that frequently. Being that last week’s alleged vandal actually lived in the neighborhood he chose to vandalize, and was later released without charges, I would say there’s a good chance the graffiti will reappear somewhere again in the future.

Besides coming forward, there are a couple things you can do to help prevent and deter graffiti vandals from spreading their expressionism all over your property.

Keep the area well-lit. A light outside your home will make it less likely to be hit by a graffiti vandal. Most of the time, these acts occur during the night with the hope of maybe surprising the property owner when they go to grab the morning paper. If you have a light on, there is less of an opportunity to paint up your garage.

Take pictures of the graffiti but cover it up or remove it as soon as you are able to. Leaving it up just gives the criminal more time to admire his/her work and at times can inspire others to do the same.

Report graffiti to the authorities. You do have an obligation according to City Ordinances to clean up the graffiti, however not reporting the crime just allows the person to keep engaging in it. It also does not deter other graffiti vandals if it’s known that there is no punishment. If you have been a victim of graffiti vandals in the Northeast Minneapolis/Marshall Terrace area, contact Second Precinct Property Crimes at (612) 673-5712.

And for God’s sake…don’t let them tell you it’s art.

Thank You Oak Tree

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

You may very well lose your own life now as a result of your service to all of us that day. Thank you oak tree.

I’m reprising my ode-to-the-oak-tree on the 3-year anniversary of its call-to-service on August 1, 2008.

Thank You Oak Tree

On Friday, August 1, I set out for my usual walk around Columbia Golf Course with two of my dog friends. As it happened, I was getting a much later start than usual that day. As my two dog friends and I crossed west at Central Avenue on St. Anthony Parkway, one of the dogs became spooked by the loud train noise occurring on the bridge ahead. She refused to go any farther. Rather than force her to go ahead, I decided to turn and head back toward the neighborhood streets.

It was at that point that I first caught a glimpse of the two copper theft suspects, James Mahaffey and Timothy Ridge, stopped at the light in their pick up truck loaded with scrap. I made a mental note of them, since, working from home, I witness the parade of thieves that traverse our alleys on a daily basis, and I knew exactly what they were up to. Two blocks later I saw them again, traveling through an alley in my neighborhood. I wasn’t close enough to get the license plate number, but vowed to get it and call the police if they crossed my path again. I never saw them again. But the two had picked the wrong neighborhood in which to commit their alleged crimes, because someone else apparently spotted them also, and took the time to call the police – I thank that person. As I would realize later, after hearing the news reports, those two sightings were within the hour preceding their death. And had I not turned back into the neighborhood that day, the timing would have put me and my two dog friends very near the vicinity of that fiery crash, perhaps at the very site.

Many a hot summer day over the last five years I’ve stopped with my dog friends to rest a while in the shade of that very oak tree half-way around the golf course. I could have very well been there that day, and would never have had time to get out of the way as the speeding truck missed the curve and careened over the curb. That oak tree stopped the truck’s trajectory, which would have taken it over the walking path and placed it squarely on one of the greens of the golf course, possibly preventing further tragedy and innocent deaths.

I believe in fate. I believe there was a reason my walk was averted in another direction that day. And I also believe that that oak tree sprouted in that very spot over seven decades ago to fulfill the very purpose that was accomplished on Friday, August 1, 2008. Thank you, oak tree. You may very well lose your own life now as a result of your service to all of us that day. All of the times I rested under you, I never fully appreciated you. I do now. Thank you, oak tree.

Gathered from news reports following the incident:

Two men were killed Friday afternoon in Northeast Minneapolis when a vehicle chase ended in a fiery crash.

About 3 p.m., two Fridley detectives responded to a tip that copper wire stolen in Fridley was being loaded into a pickup truck in the 3400 block of Fifth Street Northeast in Minneapolis, Anoka County officials said.

When they arrived, they saw a pickup truck accelerate and drive away, dropping what officials believe to be stolen property on the street.

The detectives turned on their emergency lights and sirens and followed the truck, officials said.

When the truck didn’t stop, the detectives turned off their lights and sirens because Fridley police have a no-pursuit policy, said Gordy Hughes, lead dispatcher for the Anoka County Sheriff’s Department.

After turning down a nearby street, officers found the truck ablaze, having crashed into a tree in the 600 block ofColumbia Parkway inMinneapolis.

Slumlord Wall of Shame

June 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hey Neighbors,

I’m working on compiling photos and information for a Northeast Minneapolis “Slumlord Wall of Shame” to be featured on my web page.

If you have a rental property in your neighborhood that the property owner refuses to maintain, tell me about it. If you have pictures, that would be great. Please provide me with the address and any information you have about the history of complaints made to 311 or to the property owner by you and your neighbors that have gone unheeded by the property owner and/or unenforced by the city.

I’m also interested in hearing about any Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) properties in your neighborhood that have “problem” tenants/neighbors living in them and/or which are not well-maintained. 

Use the contact form in the center of my web page on Northeast Minneapolis Crime Watch (you may remain anonymous), or email AskGladys@live.com.

“Crap Mountain”

June 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dear Gladys,

I am a homeowner on the 21xx block of California St. NE, near BottineauPark. We have an open lot across the street from our house that is used for dumping snow all winter from [commercial properties], and it is a huge mess of garbage, broken monitors, bottles, cement blocks and crap everywhere. It attracts countless riff raff and homeless who dig around for scrap, and destroy things even more for what little bit they can find. There were even dead cats, rabbits and other animals in it before all the other animals ate them!

What can I do to force these irresponsible owners to clean up their property so I don’t have to stare at what I have coined, “crap mountain.” It smells bad, and not to mention how much of it gets drawn into our sewer system after it rains. I understand there is still a small snow pile left but that shouldn’t mean they can’t clean it up a few times in the spring? K.L., Bottineau

Dear K.L.,

Yours Truly is rarely surprised to hear stories about unkempt property and the annoyed neighbors who have to look at it.

However, upon wheeling over to the area on my bike on the Sunday morning after receiving your email, I was pretty surprised to see such a pile of unsightliness in Northeast. There was, indeed, a mountain of crap facing your residential street, and within sightlines of nearby Bottineau Park.

Granted, we had a cold spring, but the dirt-ice pile was still about 10 feet high in spots on May 15 when I first visited. It was filled with all manner of trash and debris, and there was a pile of broken computer monitors off to one side – luckily I didn’t come across any carcasses!

After arriving back home to do a quick property record search for the owner of the vacant lot, I was even more surprised to find that it is owned by the California Building – on the adjacent block and within an easy view of the mess!

One would think that the owner/manager of a building with such a presence in the neighborhood, and which houses the studios of any number of locals who would likely be ultra-concerned and sensitive to environmental and neighborhood issues would have a bit more awareness of the eyesore that had been created on their property virtually within view outside their own windows!

I placed a call the next business day to the management phone number I found listed on the California Building’s website and left a message for a call back, without stating any details of the reason for my call.

Within a couple of hours Jennifer Young, leasing agent and co-owner of the building, phoned me back and I explained my position and your concern over the unsightly mess. Ms. Young stated that she was unaware of the mess and had heard no such complaints previously, but, to her credit, Ms. Young expressed urgent concern and said that she’d notify the plowing company right away to attend to the debris.

On my return visit on May 30, even though there was still a small mound of dirt-ice left, most of the unsightly debris and broken computer monitors had been removed.

Long-term, K.L, I’m not sure if that resolves your issue with the snow dumping and heap of unsightliness likely to recur in winters to come, but I hope the post-melt clean up has been to your satisfaction. Please keep me posted about future concerns with the vacant lot and good luck!

Missing & Dysfunctional Crosswalks

March 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

Dear Residents,
I’m researching information on Northeast Minneapolis intersections (crossing points) that desperately need a marked crosswalk or flashing signal or where there are existing crosswalks that have installed signals that are malfunctioning or where signage is generally ignored by motorists. Please send me the details including exact locations and whether you’ve alerted the City of Minneapolis to the need for crosswalks, repairs or enforcement. 311 tracking numbers would be helpful if you have them. Email AskGladys@live.com or submit the info through the contact form on my main page.

Alley Trawlers (Theft of Recyclables)

March 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dear Gladys, 

Who are these strange people I see driving through my alley taking recyclables and other things? 
D. D., Waite Park 

Dear D.D., 

Yours Truly has an almost endless list of pet peeves–as you might guess–but this one, I must say, is near the top. Those people are what I disdainfully refer to as Alley Trawlers – more commonly known as thieves, crooks and trespassers. 

I have been tracking one particularly notorious Alley Trawler for nearly eight years now, having been nearly clipped by him numerous times as he speeds, without care, from alley to alley without bothering to slow for pedestrians at sidewalk crossings. I have nicknamed him, “Menace to Society,” and have made countless calls to 911 in an attempt to expel him from my neighborhood. 

The City of Minneapolis actually has several ordinances which address the various actions and activities of these lawbreakers. To begin with, ordinance 244.355 states that “recyclable materials placed at the solid waste collection point (SWCP)… shall be collected only by the city’s recycling crews,” and that “no unauthorized person shall collect recyclable material set out at the SWCP or otherwise intended for city authorized collection.” 

The ordinance states in summary that “unauthorized collection or ‘scavenging’ may reduce the volumes of material collected as part of the city’s designated program and thereby threaten the economic viability of the program,” as well as cause confusion among residents. 

Setting aside the arguments about whether or not the Overseers of This Great City of Ours properly manage its financial resources, the theft of recyclable materials steals revenue from the City. Guess what happens then? The City has another excuse to raise taxes and fees. I don’t know about you, D.D., but Yours Truly has just about reached the breaking point with this city’s taxes and fees. We’ve got sales taxes, property taxes, restaurant taxes, stadium taxes (yes, I know that’s Hennepin County), liquor taxes, lodging taxes, transportation excise taxes, entertainment taxes, fees, surcharges, levies, additional overcharges and on and on! I’ll save that rant for another day, back to the Alley Trawlers… 

A number of years ago, I telephoned Susan Young, the Director of Solid Waste and Recycling for the City of Minneapolis, to see what she had to say about the theft of recyclables in Minneapolis. The first word out of her mouth was a resounding “Arrrgh!” (It seems as if the mantra of Yours Truly is catching on!) 

Ms. Young explained that the City of Minneapolis is one of the few cities in the nation that just breaks even on its recyclable program. Young said, “I can’t sell garbage, but I can sell recyclables.” She said that in 2006 the City’s recycling program took in $1.8 million, and that income from the City’s recycling program helps to keep solid waste fees down for businesses and residents. She says the money is also being saved to pay for a new transfer station. “I’d rather ‘pay as you go,’ as opposed to bonding for that,” she said. 

Young says she’s spoken to the police about the theft problem and encourages all residents to call 911 whenever they see the scavengers. “We have one guy from Elk River that we can’t catch, he drives a black truck. He leaves the city everyday with about $500 to $700 worth of aluminum,” she said. “We want to catch these people.” 

Other City ordinances state that it is illegal to remove anything from a dumpster or waste receptacle without the consent of the owner or occupant of the property (255.590 and 255.720). Section 530.150 (Title 20) also prohibits vehicular traffic from using alleys for through-transportation—the vehicle and occupant must have a verifiable reason for traveling through any alley not adjacent to one’s own property. 

In summary, D.D., call 911 when ever you see a suspicious vehicle in the alley or if you witness the theft of recyclables.

Panhandlers

March 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dear Gladys,

I was recently verbally accosted by a panhandler on an exit ramp by the Quarry shopping center. I called 911 and reported the person. What else can I do to help clear my neighborhood of panhandlers?
T. P., Audubon Park

Dear T.P.,

Ahhh, I’ve always said, “Opportunity abounds in this country.” Where else can you potentially earn in excess of $60 an hour for standing on a street corner doing nothing more than sticking your hand out? That’s far more than Yours Truly earns as a lowly advice and opinion writer. Hmmm, I bet I could dig up a piece of cardboard somewhere…. Oh, sorry, I’m getting sidetracked.

First, T. P., I’ve been told that most of these people prefer to be called SCAMMERs (Swindlers Cashing-in At Many Minneapolis Exit Ramps). Others prefer the term HOMELESS (Hustlers On Minneapolis Exit-ramps Lying to Extract Silver from Samaritans). Although, the latter is a bit of a misnomer since the Minneapolis Police Department tells us on its website that many of the solicitors do, indeed, have homes–in addition to making up stories to get your money and using money for drugs and alcohol. Still, some are sticking with the old-school nomenclature of BUM (Bilking Unsuspecting Motorists).

You were correct in calling 911. The City of Minneapolis has an ordinance prohibiting aggressive solicitation, or panhandling. According to the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances, 385.60, solicitation occurs when the person makes a “vocal request for an immediate donation of money or items,” or when the person “verbally offers, or actively provides, an item or service of little value in exchange for a donation” (cleaning vehicle windows, for example). However, the ordinance notes that it is not considered solicitation if the person is “passively standing, sitting, or engaging in a performance of art with a sign or other indication that a donation is being sought, without any vocal request other than in response to an inquiry by another person.”

According to the ordinance, solicitation is considered “aggressive” when it becomes “disturbing or disruptive to residents or businesses,” or when it causes the “loss of enjoyment of public places” or contributes to a “sense of fear, intimidation and disorder.”

The ordinance states that aggressive solicitation may include “approaching or following pedestrians, repetitive soliciting despite refusals, the use of abusive or profane language to cause fear and intimidation, unwanted physical contact, or the intentional blocking of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.” How many times have you missed a light because some “not-smart” person with a guilt-complex holds up traffic while peeling off dollar bills to some guy who probably makes more money than he or she does? Arrrrgh!

To add further insult, Yours Truly has heard the Sex Offender Notification Coordinator for the Sex Crimes Unit of the MPD remark that he often sees his “clients” at the exit ramps with their cardboard signs. T.P., people really need to think more clearly about the kinds of people they are supporting when they give money to panhandlers. Double arrrgh!

The ordinance goes on to list a number of locations where solicitation is prohibited: Restrooms, bus stops, light rail stops, crosswalks, on public transit, sidewalk cafés, in lines waiting for admittance to a commercial or governmental establishments, within twenty feet of an automatic teller machine or entrance of a bank, other financial institution or check cashing business.

It is also unlawful for the solicitor to touch, block the path of, or follow behind, ahead or alongside a person who walks away from the solicitor after being solicited.

T.P., I feel your pain. Even the mayor of our “progressive city” has implored residents not to give money to panhandlers, and the MPD recommends that you continue to call 911 every time you are solicited. May a plague of locusts alight upon the people who perpetuate this scourge on our society by continuing to give money to panhandlers!

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