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Breaking down barriers

As Columbia Heights becomes even more diverse, police make efforts to break down cultural and language barriers.

According to The Star Tribune, Al Kordiak, the former chairman of the Anoka County Board, referred to the city as a melting pot. "The ethnic groups change, but the city doesn't. We've always opened our arms to immigrants," Kordiak told Paul Levy of The Star Tribune.

The city's police department is now working in conjunction with the city's school and judicial district to help new resident's to the community connect, reported Levy. City officials will be meeting with a Hispanic church congregation to discuss concerns relating to the police.

According to Levy, routine interactions with police, like the act of getting pulled over for speeding, may seem frightening to new immigrants. The police force wants to relieve these fears.

City official hope that the city's growing Somali community can also benefit from these new programs and that the program will also help police better understand new residents dealing with language and cultural differences.

"We value other people's customs," said Police Chief Scott Nadeau. "They, in turn, want a place where they fell valued and accepted. We want to embrace diversity."

The search for diversity

The Minneapolis Charter Commission's lack of racial diversity has been noted more than once.

According to The Star Tribune, the all-white commission serves a city that has at least a 35 percent minority. This upcoming year, three slots will become open when Chairman Barry Clegg and members Thomas Jancik and Ian Stade come to an end of their appointments.

Clegg and Jancik will likely seek reappointment but Stade will step down in the hope that someone of a more diverse background will take his place, reported The Star Tribune.

The commission considers improvements for the city's charter, sometimes forwarding suggestions to change the charter based on the studies it performs. According to The Star Tribune, these changes occur by unanimous council vote or 51 percent approval by those voting in a referendum.

The commission's workload is expected to increase significantly when they take on the challenge of redistricting the city. This power was given to them in a referendum vote in November.

Whether or not the council becomes more diverse depends partially on whether or not any minority residents seek appointment and partially on whether or not Chief Judge James Swenson selects them for the appointment, reported Steve Brandt of The Star Tribune.

Realtors face case on ethics

When a Minneapolis couple offered $8,000 more than the asking price for a home in Brooklyn Park, they were sure they would get it.

According to The Star Tribune, Erica and Mike Lenzen were surprised and a little suspicious when the home was sold to someone else for $2,000 less than what they offered.

When the Lenzens approached the bank representative in charge of selling the foreclosed twin home, she claimed to have no record of the couple's offer, said the Star Tribune. The Lenzens now believe that their offer was withheld by the bank's agents at EXIT Realty Metro, perhaps because the winning bidder had no agent, meaning that the bank earned a larger commission on the final sale.

According to Star Tribune's James Shiffer,the Minnesota Association of Realtors will hear the Lenzen's complaints in a panel hearing on Dec. 17. Though the agents at EXIT Realty deny intentionally withholding the offer and that the extra commission was minimal the embarrassment of being called before the ethics panel has already moved the office to change its procedure for keeping track of the offers they recieve on various properties.

Though EXIT Realty claimed that they never received the couple's offer, they did inform the couple when the bank chose to accept "the highest offer on the table." The couple filed a complaint with the Minnesota Association of Realtor's after investigating the transaction for themselves. The association hears between 75 and 85 ethics hearings a year, reported The Star Tribune.

The University of Minnesota's Center of Bioethics requested on Monday that the Board of Regents investigate the suicide of a former clinical trial patient.

According to The Minnesota Daily, the patient, Dan Markingson, took part in a clinical trial for an anti-psychotic drug and one year later committed suicide. Eight professors from the university's Center for Bioethics would like the incident to be formally investigated by a more impartial panel of experts.

In 2003, Markingson was committed to the psychiatric wing of the university's Fairview Medical Center and subsequently entered into the clinical trial. According to Pioneer Press the study, which was funded by AstraZeneca, a drug maker, compared the effectiveness of three different anti-psychotic drugs. The research group was comprised of schizophrenic patients experiencing the first sign of symptoms.

The Pioneer Press also said that Markingson was not actually diagnosed with schizophrenia until after he was enrolled in the study. His mother told Pioneer Press that she did not see any marked improvement in her son's condition while he was enrolled in the study and that she actually wrote to Dr. Stephen Olson, Markingson's psychiatrist and the study's director, asking him to consider different courses of treatment which would have effectively disqualified him from the trial.

A question of bias could be raised at this point. According to Pioneer Press, Markingson's disqualification from the program would have resulted in a cut in funding for the study. Olson, as Markinson consulting physiatrist and the one who had originally committed him also had a financial incentive to enroll suitable patients for the study. Olson dismissed the conflict of interest claiming that Markingon would have been receiving one or more of the drugs anyway, even if he had not been enrolled in the trial.

The Minnesota Daily said that the incident has already been investigated and cleared by an internal review board as well as by the FDA. Bioethics professor Carl Elliot does not believe the university's response was adequate however, and would like to see further investigation done.

"It looks as if some very serious ethical problems occurred in this trial and we'd like the university to look into that," Elliot told the Daily.

In Powderhorn Park, four teenage boys were charged with sexually assaulting three women last week.

According to KARE 11 the boys were charged in juvenile court and according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, all of them may still be certified to be tried as adults.

"In this case because of the seriousness of the crimes, we will be seeking to certify all four of the juveniles," Freeman told Jana Shortal of KARE 11.

Shortal also said that though one of the suspect's names had previously been released and his age was confirmed as 16 years old, he may actually be 15 years old.

"That was an error. It doesn't matter who made the error but we cannot put the genie back in the bottle," Freeman told KARE 11.

One of the other boys in the case is 14 years old and the other two are 15 years old.

See also:
Victim speaks online about sexual assault at Powderhorn Park

Con man steals $6400

A con man used Craigslist and a Fridley pizza shop to steal $6400.

According to KSTP the police doubt that the man, who may or may not be named "Gary," will ever be caught. The man broke into a closed Godfathers Pizza on University Avenue in Fridley, changed the locks and sold the pizza ovens for $64,000, said KSTP.

KSTP said the police are referring to this as an "ingenious scam." The man sold the pizza ovens using Craigslist, met with buyers in the store, and got away with their money before anyone became suspicious, said Chris Keating of KSTP.

Property Manager Greg Fricke became suspicious after seeing property movers pull up to restaurant and called police. Though the movers had a bill of sale it turned out to be faked.

The police hit a dead end after trying to trace the original Craigslist listing and the cell phone number the thief had given to the buyers. "We're finding it harder and harder to track the criminals, yes," Lt. Mike Monsrud of the Fridley police told KSTP.

Holes in the fabric

An exhibit themed "Sacred Spaces" brings together Jewish artists in the Twin Cities Area to create pieces of artwork which will be featured at the Sabes Jewish Community Center this December.

According to The Star Tribune Rachel Breen, an art professor at Anoka Ramsey Community College, as well as nine other artists will each work in a temporary art gallery at the community center two days during mid-November preparing pieces for the an exhibit to be held later this year.

The artists who are participating in the center's "10 artists in 30 days" exhibit work with the door open, amid the clamor of young children and elderly guests and encourage the visitors to watch and ask questions. Their work, which they will later finish in their own studios, will be featured in December's exhibit, "Sacred Spaces."

Breen tells The Star Tribune that she hopes her work will prompt critical thinking. The theme of her piece addresses the ability to find the sacred in the mundane. She creates holes with a machine typically meant to bring fabric together and asks the question, "How far can things go before they fall apart?"

Love of the ride

"Funemployment" is what Freddy Jackson, once a St. Paul concierge, calls his own personal world of unemployment.

This past fall, Jackson has been spending his spare time driving around Minneapolis and St. Paul randomly picking up people waiting at MTC bus stops, wrote TD Mischke of City Pages.

According to City Pages, when Jackson's grandfather died last February, leaving him a small inheritance Jackson bought an old MTC bus from a Hastings junkyard for $2,000.

"I'm on the road," Jackson told City Pages with a grin. "I drove 26 people around the city today. No charge"

According to City Pages, Jackson said he has been driving around on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for about six hours each day, picking up random people waiting for their regular buses.

"I tell them I'll get them where they're going faster, plus they can grab something cold from the cooler. I have hot coffee on hand, too," Jackson said.

According to Mischke, Jackson is currently living off of unemployment and is looking for work, but will lament the day he has to park his bus and move on.

"I've had people try and pay me for this, but I won't take it," he says. "One guy tried to stick a hundred-dollar bill in my shirt pocket just to help cover the gas. I told him Grandpa is covering the gas."

Jackson offers all the services a concierge would to his riders. Sally Sundeen told City Pages that once Jackson picked her up and drove her straight to her job at the University of Minnesota. Not only did she get a cup of coffee with sugar and cream, but when they arrived he walked her to the door and held it open for her.

Often, new arrivals to the bus are greeted with music, either played over the sound system, or sung to by other passengers.

"I was driving through Dinkytown during homecoming week, and I had five or six students on the bus singing 'My Girl' right along with the stereo. The sun was shining so bright, and the air was crisp and cool, and I said to myself, life is just a series of moments, you know, some better, some worse, and this one is as good as any I've ever known," Jackson said.

A 13-year-old Minneapolis boy was accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl on a school bus Monday afternoon, Minneapolis police told the Star Tribune on Wednesday.

Police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer said that the boy was taken to juvenile detention following an investigation into whether or not the boy forced the girl to perform a sex act, reported the Star Tribune.

According to KARE 11 both children are students at Sheridan Arts Magnet School.

KSTP-TV reported that Sheridan Principal Al Pitt sent an e-mail to parents Tuesday letting them know the matter would be under investigation by Minneapolis Police.

"We take these types of allegations very seriously and the matter is currently under investigation with the Minneapolis Police Department," Pitt told KARE 11. "Maintaining a safe environment for our students is a top priority. We are committed to following our district's discipline policy concerning this incident."

Somali multi-state prostitution ring

The Star Tribune reported that a total of twenty-nine people, most of them from the Twin Cities, have been accused of running and operating an interstate sex-trafficking ring that crossed into both Tennesee and Ohio.

According to the BBC, the multi-state sex trafficking ring run by three Somalian gangs based in Minneapolis, has been in operation for 10 years.

The Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia, and the Lady Outlaws have found to be involved the recruitment of underage Somali and African-American girls for prostitution, the BBC reported.

According to MPR one member of the Somali-American community located in the Twin Cities, Abdulkadir Sharif, said that he had been approached in public and asked if he wanted to participate in the prostitution ring.

"I was very irritated, and at the same time, I was very shocked," Sharif told MPR.

John Morton, the director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the BBC that many of the girls taken advantage of were victimized repeatedly and transported to several different places for periods of several years.

"Human traffickers abuse innocent people, undermine our public safety and often use their illicit proceeds sophisticated criminal organizations," Morton told the BBC.

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