LOCAL COLOR/Under watchful eyes
Five years ago, New Brighton, Minn., realized that the old proverb “It takes a village” was true. In the midst of the close-knit community, Polynesian Village, an aging apartment complex that was once a residential hotspot, had become inundated with crime. To combat crime and retain community spirit, police organizations and residents joined together to form the Poly Partners — A Coalition for Quality of Life initiative.
In the 1970s, newcomers flocked to New Brighton, bypassing nearby Minneapolis and St. Paul. Polynesian Village was a main attraction for young people moving from the large, urban areas of Chicago and Gary, Ind., because of its Polynesian design and singles scene. New Brighton was a haven until crime began to drive away some of the city’s longtime residents. “[The crimes were] different for our neighborhood, and some of the crimes that were occurring were more associated with urban areas and nothing that we were used to handling out here in the suburban areas,” says Crime Prevention Officer Tony Paetznick. “At Polynesian Village, there was crime and disorder out of proportion with other multi-family properties.”
The troubles at Polynesian Village began in 1995 when a new management company took over the property and renovated the 20-year-old complex. To finance the renovations, the management received tax credits that required them to use a portion of the property for affordable housing units. Crime at the complex gradually escalated, and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) received increasing complaints of drug dealing, prostitution, theft and assault. By 2000, 10 percent of police calls in New Brighton came from the faltering community, resulting in a high residential turnover rate. “It wasn’t just the police department that had issues, so we realized that there were a lot of community players that needed to get involved,” Paetznick says. “And working together was the key to success here.”
DPS created a Crime-Free Multi-Housing Officer position to develop crime-reducing strategies and foster community relationships. A new city ordinance also was enacted that placed more responsibility for tenant behavior on the complex management. Residents, with the assistance of DPS, created a neighborhood watch program with building captains and a resident council. In addition, the presence of public safety officials became more prominent.
Other community agencies became involved with the project, including the city Parks and Recreation Department, Community Partners with Youth, the Mounds View School District, Northwest Youth and Family Services, the Opportunity Neighborhood Development Corp., the Suburban Ramsey Family Collaborative and Real Estate Equities/Village Green Properties. Each organization added improvements to the complex, including lighting, security and grounds maintenance, and onsite afterschool and social service programs.
Since the inception of the Poly Partners program, crime at Polynesian Village has decreased by 58 percent, according to the city. A 2003 survey conducted by the St. Paul, Minn.-based Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, also found that 77 percent of residents felt safe in their community, an increase from 53 percent just two years earlier. And, in December 2005, the Washington-based National League of Cities honored the program with the James C. Howland Award for Municipal Enrichment. Paetznick adds: “There’s a great deal of passion for what goes on at Polynesian Village from all the members of the collaborative in ensuring the continued success of the program.”