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Violent crime in Minneapolis is at second-lowest level since 1983

Violent crime was only slightly more than the record low set in 2011.

Violent crime in Minneapolis last year ended up at the second-lowest level since 1983 and only slightly more than the record low set in 2011.

City police achieved those results, despite flare-ups of violence downtown and continued gun violence.

“We’re proud of the fact that it’s safer than it has been,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak, appearing with Police Chief Janee Harteau, at the city’s annual news conference on crime statistics.

He said getting handguns off the streets and reducing youth violence will continue as priorities in 2013.

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“These stats are not just numbers to me. Each one of them represents not just a crime but a victim,” said Harteau, who explained that the crime statistics help officers to concentrate on problem areas. “Numbers cannot and do not tell the whole story.”

Based on what she learned early in her career as a beat cop, the chief wants to get cops out of cars and walking the streets. Responding to 911 calls, she said, will still be the top priority for officers on patrol. But between those calls, she wants officers walking the streets and talking to people.

“When I worked [at] Chicago and Franklin, I had lots of conversations with people — they told me their life stories,” Harteau said.

 “It gave me information. I knew who everybody was. I knew everything they did,” she said. “I got that because I walked up and down the street, not because I drove by in a squad car with the windows rolled up.”

She also noticed, back then, that when she walked the beat at predictable hours, the folks who wanted to avoid her knew when to stay away and were surprised when she switched shifts. She doesn’t want cops walking a beat at predictable times.

Last year started with a spike in crime downtown when mobs of people who connected with each other via social media would quickly converge on victims who were then beaten and robbed.

“We had a summer that came early,” said Harteau, noting that in March the downtown area had a 77 percent increase in violent crime, much of it attributed to the quickly forming mobs. The police responded by checking out social media and increasing patrols downtown, which she said produced “a solid fix fairly rapidly.”

That 77 percent spike in violent crime downtown was reduced to a 27 percent increase by year’s end.

Later in the summer, two “problematic” night clubs downtown closed down after Police joined forces with the city’s Regulatory Services Department to increase enforcement of city codes.

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Regulatory Services wasn’t the department’s only partner in reducing violence downtown. Police also enlisted help from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, probation officers and youth service organizations. School resource officers also were re-assigned to the area during the summer.

“When that took effect, we started to see an immediate ability of the police officers to have more power to seek out those who were downtown for less than noble means,” said Deputy Chief Ed Frizell, who was part of the crackdown. “Arrests went up.”

The number of guns inventoried as evidence in 2012 increased by 27.5 percent from 516 in 2011 to 658 in 2012.

“We still have top offenders, those that are shooting at [people] and likely going to be shot at, if not shot,” said Harteau. The focus on gun crimes will continue with increased attention on the source of the guns, shots fired and violent hot spots.

“There is no reason on God’s green earth that someone should have an assault, military-style weapon,” said Rybak. “Its scandalous, it’s outrageous and it’s got to be stopped.”

Harteau has created a Violent Crimes Investigative Division to focus more attention on gun and other brutal crimes.  That new Division includes Homicide, Safe Streets, Gang Enforcement, Assault, Robbery and Violent Criminal Apprehension.

In the 5th Precinct, which is south of downtown and west of Highway 35, violent crime decreased by 18 percent, robbery was down 15 percent and curfew arrests increased by 62 percent. Assistant Chief Matt Clark, who was previously the inspector for the 5th Precinct, said the 2012 results were made possible, in part, because officers studied crime patterns and worked closely with members of the community.

“People feel safer,” said Marian Biehm of the Whittier Alliance. “It makes for a much more collaborative community when you have the support of the officers.”

Property crimes were increasing in 2011, which made them a focus for the department in 2012.  It paid off. Burglaries dropped 6 percent.

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“Property crimes are probably one of the most irritating crimes there are — when your house has been burglarized, or someone has gone through your car or taken your car,” said Inspector Bryan Schafer.

The decrease in property crimes, he said, came because police knew the chronic offenders, knew the time of day they were active and the current hot spots. Crime prevention specialists went door to door in neighborhoods in those areas to tell people how to protect themselves.

“We caught an awful lot of property offenders,” said Inspector Bruce Jensen. “More important, we were catching chronic property offenders who could do 20 or 30 burglaries a week.”

Harteau said more changes may be coming. She plans to meet with the entire department Feb.5 and 6 to introduce herself and explain the changes she plans to make.