ST. PAUL, – Juanae Brooks, like many St. Paul business owners, is fed up with the safety problems which open skyways presents.
Brooks went before the St. Paul City Council on April 17 to ask for a variance, which would allow her to close her skyway doors six hours earlier than the scheduled closing, which is mandated by a city ordinance. While most of the skyway system runs through private businesses, the city maintains easements which give the public access to the skyway. Furthermore there is no central government or nongovernmental authority over the skyway system, making management of it difficult.
Brooks relayed to the Pioneer Press some of the disturbing results of the lack of management of skyway access, recounting how recently a co-worker and herself encountered a homeless man armed with a knife in one of the skyway bathrooms.
Brooks stated before the city council, “In the 27 years I’ve been here, this has been by far the worst” encounter.
“They poop, they pee, there’s hypodermic needles, used condoms,” Brooks went on, “I was not getting any help from the city or police. It was a crazy show going on in my building.”
Brooks is by no means the only person who has experienced problems attached to the skyway being too open to the public. Many complained in a meeting of the St. Paul Skyway Governance Advisory Committee that unruly teenagers leave behind fast food wrappers and obscene graffiti. The owners of the building at 345 Cedar St. were forced to rip out the skyway carpet after it developed a smell of urine. Some have found the homeless naked in their buildings skyway and elevators.
Brooks has claimed the police have done little to help in dealing with these problems, going as far as to say that the police don’t respond to calls. Brooks explained in her letter to city council that she is able to monitor the building through six security cameras, which she uses to both watch and communicate with the homeless that they are trespassing. She goes on to say that the “police never respond to my calls or calls from my tenants for help in dealing with these situations.”
While Brooks states that she has gotten private security to patrol the building till 2 a.m., this has done little to stop the problem as the homeless often know how to evade these patrols. Furthermore, Brooks worries about the liability she may face if a homeless person were to injure one of these security guards.
Police spokesman Paul Linder stated that Brooks’ claims are unfounded, saying that “[we] weren’t able to find any instances where officers did not respond. … We respond to all calls.”
Linder also indicated that despite there being no increase in violent crimes such as assault or robberies in recent years, they have decided to increase the amount of patrols around skyways.
During the St. Paul City Council meeting Brooks’ request for a variance was postponed to be voted on for three weeks. Brooks’ city council member, Rebecca Noecker (Ward 2), wanted the council to deny Brooks’ request. Noecker told the Star Tribune, “I completely hear the concerns that property owners have raised,” however she says the closing of buildings unexpectedly could create problems for downtown residents trying to get home. The Department of Safety and Inspection also recommended denying Brooks’ request on the grounds that it hopes to introduce a city ordinance that would mandate how much property owners are responsible for security within their own buildings. This ordinance is mostly in response to the fact that each property owner has a wide variation in the amount they are spending on security, with some spending nothing on it.
In March, Brooks decided to take matters into her own hands by putting a keypad on the skyway door to her building. According to residents of her building, the problem of unwarranted vagrants ceased after this measure was taken.