Battling crime with eyes on the streetby Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
Crime was a major story in 2006 -- more specifically, the surge of crime in north Minneapolis. This is where Dorothy "Dottie" Titus calls home.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Crime has been a problem on Penn Ave., the street where Titus lives. But for her, the crime story of the year was one of fighting back, by being vigilant.
As Titus stands on the front porch of her two-story home in the Jordan section of north Minneapolis, she describes what she sees on her street.
"Right now we have 28 houses on this block and of them, 10 are vacant and boarded," said Titus.
She points at a white home that she calls a "house of prostitution."
"You had prostitutes and clients going in and out of there all the time," Titus said. "When we got that one raided and boarded, they went into the duplex (next door), which became a 24-hour party house."
Titus talks about how she and her neighbors took the streets back -- how they got the police to raid the home and board it up. She and her neighbors did it by keeping a watch on the property.
Titus goes an extra step. On the second floor of her home is a corner room, with a wide view of the street. There she sets up a camera -- her instant eyes -- and captures the crime going on.
Titus has videotapes of some disturbing activities. One shows a woman sitting across the street on her front stoop, using a crack pipe.
"For me it was really -- I don't know what the right word is -- outrageous that people would feel so comfortable," said Titus. "That they can sit on a front step on a school morning, in plain view smoking crack."
Titus said there has been a turnaround because of the vigilance.
"It's gone from being a wild, wide open street where crime was being committed 24 hours a day, to being much quieter. Mostly the prostitutes are out after dark now," she said.
Titus has been an activist in the Jordan neighborhood for some time. She is now battling ovarian cancer, which has limited her ability to do work in the community. But it hasn't stopped her from being a watchdog.
What Titus has noticed over the years is a pattern. The "criminal element," as she put it, moves into an area very tentatively.
"If you start acting at that point in time, you have a really good chance of cleaning them out and keeping them out," she said. "If you don't act then, they begin to feel like they've got a territory. And then there becomes a sense of entitlement, then it's much more difficult to move them out."
Titus said she and her neighbors were motivated to action because they saw families disappearing from their street.
"Thirty kids have left this block, their families have moved them out because of the violence. And that to me is unacceptable. Children have a right to feel safe where they live," she said.
But Titus, who works as a personal growth counselor, said she continually lives her life from a "place of hope. That things will always get better."
For some who might look across the street from Dorothy Titus' home and see homes with sheets of plywood on the windows and doors - it wouldn't necessarily look like progress.
But she'll tell you that it's a welcome change from the chaos. Now comes the job of slowly replacing the crime with an effort to rebuild and invite families back to the neighborhood.
"We need to displace (the crime) by coming back ... bringing the kids back," she said. "And filling all these houses with eyes on the street."
Her hope for 2007 is that the city government takes the next step in battling crime in north Minneapolis by rebuilding communities where the criminal element used to reside.
- Morning Edition, 12/28/2006, 7:25 a.m.