Awards honor community leaders

Monday, November 24, 2014

A standing room only crowd filled the Hennepin County commissioners’ board room Wednesday to applaud the work of 15 people who have made the county a better and safer place to work and live.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office presented Community Leadership Awards to the 15 people. The work they have done ranged from providing bicycles to children in North Minneapolis to combating domestic violence to eliminating nuisance properties.

“We need opportunities to celebrate and that is what we are doing today,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said before handing out the awards. “The people here bring a zeal, whether they are volunteers or professionals in public safety.”

Sen. Scott Dibble was the keynote speaker and received a lifetime achievement award from Freeman. In his speech, Dibble spoke of how quickly the gay community went from being harassed and discriminated against to having the right to marry and how that will improve the entire community.

“When freedom and opportunity expands, it expands for everyone,” Dibble said. “It is not a zero sum game.”

Minneapolis Police Officer Michael Kirchen was honored for his years as a school resource officer, but even more, starting the Bike Cops for Kids during the summer months. Minneapolis bike patrol officers would cycle through the North side during June, July and August looking for kids with nothing to do and engage with them. They might also hand out bicycles and bicycle helmets to them.

“Working as a school resource officer and Bike Cops for Kids really has been a highlight,” he said. “It’s started to be replicated across the country; Albuquerque, (NM), Richmond County in  Georgia and Louisville (Ky.) have contacted us.”

Lolita Ulloa, managing attorney of the Domestic Abuse Service Center, introduced Carol Arthur, the executive director of the Domestic Abuse Project since 1988.

“Carol understood that helping and healing the entire family was going to stop the violence and nothing short of that would be good enough for her or the community,” Ulloa said.

Arthur, in turn, praised the county attorney’s office for being a leader nationally in ending domestic abuse, going back to 1982, and “it has been my privilege to work in collaboration with you.”

Carla Nielsen was honored for her work as a crime prevention specialist in the Minneapolis Police Department. About a dozen years ago, street-level drug dealing was making life miserable for people living in the Phillips neighborhoods and a possible new solution was creating a Court Watch program. The program would bring community members together, along with criminal justice workers, to make sure the residents were heard by the judges when they considered sentences for the drug dealers. Senior Managing Attorney Gail Baez said she didn’t know Nielsen when she was hired as the specialist to coordinate the Court Watch program.

“Carla was well-organized, smart and all the things you would want in a crime prevention specialist,” Baez said. “But where she excelled and continues to excel, is with people. She was tactful, pleasant, but above all, compassionate. She really cared about the people who were suffering from the impact of crime and all of the bad things that accompany it.”

When she got up to speak, Nielsen said hello in about a half-dozen languages, explaining she learned those because, “my mom used to say; Carla Marie, a smile and hello is an international language.”

Lori Whittier, manager of the County Attorney’s Child Protection Division, introduced county social workers Lynne Hoff and Anne Humes. Whittier said that in 2002, it became clear that child abuse investigations would run smoother and obtain better results if two social workers were placed at the Minneapolis Police Department’s Crimes against Children’s division.

Hoff and Humes have been there ever since and their work has been outstanding.

“They are always professional and respectful of the families they are working with and they are extremely well-prepared when we go to court, especially if they need to testify in a trial,” Whittier said.

Finally, a group of nine people who work on resolving problems with nuisance properties were given an award. More than a year ago, members of the police department, community activists, housing inspectors and county attorney employees decided to form a collaborative to work on problem properties in North Minneapolis and develop methods that could be used throughout the county, Baez said. Her division handles those nuisance property issues.

Depending on the problem that is coming from the house or apartment, it could be the police department that gets involved, or the Minneapolis housing code enforcement folks or the county attorney might have to take the property owner to court, she said.

The group included:

Roberta Englund and Bonnie Moore of the Folwell and Webber-Camden Neighrboods; Minneapolis Police Department Crime Prevention Specialist Tim Hammett and Police Officer Mike Nimlos; Robin Utto and JoAnn Velde of Minneapolis Regulatory Services; Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Catherine McEnroe and paralegal Lisa Edge and investigator Bernie Martinson.

“There is one simple idea: everybody has the right to enjoy their home in reasonable peace and security,” Hammett said. “But for many hardworking people, that is elusive. Some hardworking people come home and will it be another night of loud music, disturbances and fears. Will there be another brawl next door? Will there be gunshots? Those are activities that cause good people to move out of struggling neighborhoods.”

Watch a video recording of the ceremony.