News flash: Titty bars to blame for rising crime!

Categories: Crime
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With the mounting hysteria over lawlessness in Minneapolis, it seems like there are now more new crime fighting proposals in town than crack dealers. Some of the ideas--such as adding more cops--have the virtue of common sense. Others--such as decriminalizing drugs or figuring out how to close yawning economic disparities between the races--seem worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, those seldom gain much traction because the issues raised are too complex and too radioactive.


And then there are the poorly reasoned approaches so often favored by the political class. For instance: the city's unprecedented crackdown on north side housing code violations--things like chipped paint, insufficient driveway gravel and the like--all of which was initiated under the theory that evil-doers will surely be demoralized by a sudden proliferation of well-manicured lawns.

But the latest crime-fighting proposal to grace the august pages of the Newspaper of the Twin Cities transcends the merely silly; it is ridiculous and you have to wonder why the editors even considered it for publication. I refer here to the op-ed authored by Andy Brehm, former press secretary to Senator Norm Coleman and a regular on Twin Cities public TV broadcast, Almanac.

In Brehm's view, it's those appalling strip clubs and sex shops that are driving crime rates downtown. Brehm is certainly within his rights to be offended by the sex industry. Like lots of people, Brehm, evidently, is uncomfortable with the commercial exploitation of nudity. Fine. But Brehm's proposed solution--Mayor Rybak, in the name of the children, you must shut down Dream Girls!--is rooted in crappy logic. Writes the budding attorney:

One of the reasons Minneapolis is dangerous is that it looks and feels dangerous. Unlike most urban centers, including St. Paul, Minneapolis is littered with strip clubs and sex shops. Hennepin Avenue, which seeks to welcome families to Block E and the Orpheum Theatre for wholesome entertainment, also plays host to the clientele of topless bars and adult stores.

No doubt, that opinion is shared by a lot of visitors to Minneapolis. That doesn't mean it has merit. To begin with, Brehm ought to consider the inconvenient fact that the businesses he derides as civic toxins have been in existence long before the current surge in crime. And, contrary to his assertion, most major cities have their share of such establishments.

Of course, it is true that a badly run strip club can cause trouble in a neighborhood. So can a badly run bar or a badly run convenience store. That does not mean that strip clubs and sex shops are inherently criminogenic and thus deserve the smackdown. I explored this issue in a story about the city's efforts to close a topless bar in northeast Minneapolis, the 22nd Avenue Station. A relevant passage from the that piece:

According to an affidavit prepared by urban planner R. Bruce McLaughlin, for instance, the club averaged significantly fewer calls for police service over a three-year period than two neighboring bars, a nearby liquor store, and even one nearby residence. McLaughlin also found no discernible effects on property valuation related to the presence of the club.

Unlike Brehm, sociologist Dan Linz, who has studied the issue of so-called "adverse secondary effects" of strip clubs for the past quarter century, offers insight that are grounded in science, not personal morals:

"There is always this struggle between what we as social scientists find and what legislators will rely on in order to substantiate their political or moral views," Linz observed. "And very often government officials trot out these studies without having even read them."

Linz acknowledges that some studies have drawn correlations between adult businesses and effects on neighborhood property values and crime rates. "There is a standard set of studies that can be downloaded from conservative Christian web pages, which are often used as justification for ordinances and which are circulated from state to state," Linz says. "We have reviewed each of these studies and found them to be so flawed in scientific methodology as to be virtually useless."

Bottom line: The rising crime in Minneapolis is an enormously complex phenomenon, a phenomenon that is difficult to untangle. But it's not fair for Brehm or others to scapegoat a few juice bars that feature naked women dancing on stages or retail outlets that sell adult DVDs. And it's a mystery why the Strib chose to showcase this argument so prominently.


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