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Does Twin Cities crime really go up in the summer?

The Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments are preparing for the summertime uptick as they do every year, but in recent years, say they have shifted a focus on intervention over enforcement.

Foggy Minneapolis skyline at dusk
In Minneapolis, the numbers signal an increase in incidents as the weather gets warmer.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

Every year, Twin Cities residents remark on how crime goes up alongside temperatures, but is that reflected in police department data, or is it an urban myth?

Whether it’s due to being around more people in warmer weather or school being out and a lack of summer programming for youth, or some combination of those factors and others, crime data from the state’s two largest cities point to a sizable increase in crime during the warmer months.

The Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments are preparing for the summertime uptick as they do every year, but in recent years, they say they have shifted to a focus on intervention over enforcement. 

“The chief likes to say that prevention is the gold medal, intervention is kind of the silver medal and enforcement is the bronze medal,” said St. Paul Police Commander Jeff Stiff, who heads the department’s gang unit. “If we can stick with those two top tiers and we can do some prevention and intervention … then we consider that a win.”

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What the numbers say

In Minneapolis, the numbers do signal an increase in incidents as the weather gets warmer. 

According to a MinnPost analysis of Minneapolis Police Department crime data between 2019 and 2023, average number of crime incidents hovers between 2,869 and 3,312 each month during the first four months of the year. 

But in May each year — when the weather is consistently warmer and people start to head outside —  the average number of incidents rises to 3,669 and continues climbing to an average of over 4,250 incidents per month. Incidents remain elevated until October when they begin their descent back under an average of 4,000 per month.

 

“The weather does influence people’s behavior, people’s patterns, people’s social life, and so on,” said Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara in an interview. “All of that, cumulatively with a variety of other factors, absolutely contributes to a situation where historically there is an increase during the summer months.”

St. Paul’s open data website reports data differently than Minneapolis’ crime dashboard, showing calls for service versus crime offenses. Still, the overall trends are similar, showing higher numbers in warmer months. Stiff echoed O’Hara, saying the freezing cold temperatures come with fewer reports of shots fired, for example. 

“It’s not an anomaly thing — it’s the winters in Minnesota,” he said. “Whether it’s crime or disturbances or whatever, everything kind of goes indoors and it’s pretty self explanatory why.”

Brooke Blakey, director of St. Paul’s Office of Neighborhood Safety, calls it the “summer surge.” When many organized activities or obligations that generally keep the population busy fall away, crime tends to trend upward. 

“Schools are out, colleges are out and this is generally the time people take vacation — a lot of the structured activities and things of our day-to-day life change,” she said. “Also, in Minnesota and other places, you generally kind of hibernate during the winter, and so you kind of keep to yourself.”

Higher temperatures typically coincide with breaks from school for teenagers and pre-teens, and a lack of programming for those teens.

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What are they doing about it?

In the past, O’Hara said police departments would prepare for these anticipated increases by focusing on enhancing police activity. That would include traditional approaches of counting the numbers of arrests, traffic stops and court summonses, but oftentimes there was no attention paid to where in the city or what times of day incidents may be happening more often.

O’Hara said MPD now uses more data analysis and geographic information to better target hotspots, along with help from local and federal agencies during summer enforcement campaigns. They’re also using relationship building as a means to prevent violence

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” O’Hara said. “More recently, and certainly as police departments have gotten smaller and as there has been a demand for greater accountability, I think we have done a better job as a profession becoming more precise, using the fewer resources that we have, and learning that this is more of a collaborative effort.”

In St. Paul, Stiff said the department used to do what’s called “saturation patrols,” where areas deemed to be higher-crime would be flooded with patrol officers, but that method didn’t work to fix the issue long-term.

“Really what that does is the first couple of weeks, all the problems kind of spread out of that neighborhood,” he said. “But you have the actual residents and the community members that live in that neighborhood, and they’re the ones that are affected by that large saturation of police officers in there.”

The department, along with many others, has pivoted to a focus on intervention over enforcement. One of their newer efforts is A St. Paul Intervention and Recovery Effort (ASPIRE), a joint effort with SPPD, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and many other  community members groups. The 11-person unit that includes eight officers and three sergeants aims to improve the lives of kids and families as a way to prevent youth from resorting to crime. 

Blakey said she used her first summer with the Office of Neighborhood Safety as a learning experience: engaging with St. Paul residents to learn what their needs are, connecting with communities and figuring out where the holes are.

Using the city she was able to plug them with opportunities for young people via jobs at places like parks, libraries and rec centers. From there, she said they’ll keep adjusting as they determine what works.  

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“Will we solve everything? Will we stop everything? Absolutely not,” she said. “But we are prepared to see where that is, and make sure that we are putting the right resource there, and then figuring out, do we need an additional resource for different pieces.”