Honeywell 'Heals' Minneapolis/St. Paul

A corporate-community-government partnership curtails the Twin Cities' murder rate.

Somewhere out there is the author of a T-shirt message who, with a single word, arguably saved dozens of lives-maybe more. Believe it. The corporate and community leaders of Minnesota do. And with good reason: In the summer when the word on the T-shirt gained prominence, the city had 40 homicide victims. The next summer, the number plummeted to eight. Cause and effect? "No doubt about it," declares Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson. The T-shirt's history-altering word was highlighted in a front-page article in The New York Times on June 21, 1996, in the midst of what Olson calls "our bloody summer." "Murderapolis." Michael R. Bonsignore, chairman and CEO of Honeywell Inc., was in New York the day the article appeared. When he spotted the awful word, he decided he finally had had enough. He returned to Minneapolis with the newspaper-and a firm resolution. What he resolved was this: "The killings must stop." Bonsignore expressed his determination to his colleagues at Honeywell and throughout the corporate community, and they quickly enlisted in his crusade to render the grisly nickname false. The result of their efforts was Minnesota HEALS -- an acronym almost no one in town can translate, but whose work nearly everyone in Minneapolis and St. Paul has come to know quite well. For the record, the term stands for "Hope, Education, and Law & Safety." In practice, it means an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination among officials in the area's criminal-justice system. "There are a great many turf issues in the criminal-justice system," explains James C. Robertson, corrections unit supervisor for Hennepin County. "In fact, it's not even really a system at all. It's a hodgepodge of government agencies that are forced to work together to process people through the hoops and hurdles that end in justice." Well, sometimes. In the absence of communication and collaboration, the hoops and hurdles often end with justice denied. And in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as in countless other communities across the country, communication and law enforcement long were mutually exclusive. "People just did not talk together for a generation," Robertson says. It was government's dirty little secret. "As a lay person, you just assume they work together," says Pat Hoven, Honeywell's vice president for social responsibility. So when corporate leaders at Honeywell and other area businesses called local officials together to discuss methods to end the violence, none of the executives realized they already had taken a giant step toward a solution. Discussion, it turns out, was precisely what was needed most. Surprisingly, perhaps, law-enforcement leaders responded enthusiastically to the business community's intervention. "We were trying to keep the dam from bursting," explains Chief Olson. "The issue was much bigger than law enforcement, and we knew that." Coordinated by the Minnesota Business Partnership, Honeywell joined forces with the area's other major employers-most notably, Allina Health Systems and General Mills Inc. -- and their collective clout was big enough to meet the problem head-on. "There is a power in the business community that they don't even know they have," marvels Olson. In this case, the power brought the key players to the table. Now the group, made up of some 60 companies, government agencies, and community groups, meets regularly to coordinate efforts aimed at combating crime and improving the area's quality of life. In three short years the list of specific accomplishments is almost as startling as the murder rate itself once was. Some 2,500 visits by probation officers to probationers' homes have dramatically improved the probation department's monitoring capabilities. A prosecutor-police liaison program, in which lawyers in the county attorney's office are assigned to each of the county's 45 police departments, has resulted in charges being filed more quickly and successfully. And the recently passed "HEALS bill," legislation that makes $1 million in state funds available to counties that plan technology improvements to enhance communications among police agencies, sets the stage for police officers to instantly share information about crimes and suspects. Other accomplishments -- including more user-friendly courts, later high-school dismissal times, and community meetings -- are part of ongoing efforts that give the HEALS program tentacles throughout the community. And in light of CEO Bonsignore's strongly stated pledge that Honeywell's planned merger with AlliedSignal Inc. will not affect his company's support of the program, it is clear that HEALS is deeply etched in the community's character. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno hopes the HEALS approach will soon be etched in the character of other communities as well. "She was so impressed by what she saw in Minneapolis that she wants other businesses to do this," says Katrina Weinig, a deputy assistant attorney general in the office of policy development. Reno left the first National Symposium on Corporate-Community Partnerships for Public Safety, held in Minnesota this past April, with the same missionary fervor Honeywell's Bonsignore brought to his efforts three years ago. As a result, the Justice Dept. is now working to promote similar efforts in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, the East Bay areas of California and, of course, Washington. Meanwhile back in Minneapolis, HEALS meetings these days no longer are consumed with talk of murders and violence. One recent meeting, for example, included discussion of "laundry-room bandits." The change in the discussion topic is welcome indeed. But most welcome is the discussion itself.

TAGS: Legislation
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