Minneapolis’ SafeZone

A public-private surveillance effort with retail giant Target Corp. has led to a dramatic reduction in the city’s violent crime


From a business standpoint, the partnerships have had results, he says: “It transformed from a crime-control measure to basically, in our terms, almost a business growth driver.”

 

A True Public-Private Collaboration

When tasked with the job of improving enforcement in downtown Minneapolis, Allen turned to Target’s in-house video security experts.

“I knew nothing about video systems, and it didn’t make sense for me or the police department, which knew nothing about video, to try to develop a video system,” Allen says, “so we worked very closely with Target — which is headquartered downtown and has been a great crime-prevention partner with us — to identify how to build a video system. They have 1,500 stores, and every store has 70 to 90 cameras — that’s a lot of cameras. They understand video systems, so they helped us design the system. Their legal department helped us get the clearances to install cameras.”

Initially, the SafeZone Collaborative formed a 501(c)(3), which evolved into the Downtown Improvement District (DID), where the majority of property owners agreed to be taxed at a slightly higher level. Funds generated mainly have been used for downtown safety and security. Maintenance and expansion of the camera system is sustained through the DID.

The DID is funded primarily by special assessments on property tax invoices of commercial properties. Some exempt properties — including government, certain non-profit and residential parcels — make voluntary contributions.

 

Inside the Surveillance System

Using crime-mapping software, the Minneapolis Police Department identified prime locations for the cameras based on the number of calls for police assistance. Occasionally, compromises about placement had to be made if power or networking availability was lacking at a certain corner. That was not a major setback: “Downtown, where you don’t have as large a tree covering, you actually can see pretty well a block in each direction,” Allen says.

The camera of choice for the project is the outdoor-ready AXIS Q6032-E PTZ dome network camera, with recording and video management software from Milestone Systems. Cameras are typically positioned on utility poles and buildings. Hold-harmless agreements were sought with building owners to protect the city from lawsuits in the event that inadvertent damage occurred during installation. The process was painstaking: “All those types of things needed to get done, and that can be a little challenging,” Allen says.

The introduction of public video systems often raises civil liberties issues, but the police department’s openness helped stem those worries. “There were concerns about privacy on the front end,” Brekke recalls, “but they were very smart in Minneapolis PD. They set up a monitoring station that anyone from the public or media or whatever could come in and watch the same stuff they were watching, so it had no secrets. They did their monitoring behind a glass wall so anybody could watch what the cops were doing, let alone what they were seeing on the video. Transparency is a good thing.”

 

Private Security Officers

The video camera network served as a springboard for further downtown security enhancements. Private security officers outnumbered Minneapolis police in the SafeZone by an approximate 13-to-1 ratio in 2006, when Janeé Harteau — now Deputy Chief Harteau — was appointed First Precinct Inspector and worked to formalize the SafeZone Collaborative. To take advantage of that disparity, partnerships were formed with private security firms, and a radio-link program was established that allowed private security officers to have direct communication with police on a common channel.

Security officers communicate with police via a combination of police radios on a dedicated talk group that is cross-patched at the Minneapolis Radio Shop to a shared “direct connect” talk group on a Sprint-Nextel system.

“They can talk to the police directly, and the police can talk to them directly,” Allen says. “Most importantly though, the businesses can talk to each other directly so if there is a problem person for example, they say, ‘Hey, we just kicked a guy out of our store, and he’s headed towards your store.”