Targeting hot spots for crime

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January 31, 2011
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch
// Police focus on putting a dent in crimes that have troubled Northeast neighborhoods //

The commander of Northeast’s 2nd Precinct reports that 2010 was a challenging year, driven by an increase in thefts and burglaries.

“We had a number of successes, but crime was up in 2010,” said 2nd Precinct Insp. Bryan Schafer. “Even though the city saw decreases in violent crime, the precinct saw increases in both violent crime and Part I crime.”

Violent crime was up 7 percent, and the precinct saw a 4 percent increase in Part I crime, which is a measure of serious incidents such as murder, robbery and auto theft.

Schafer said the crime was concentrated in four neighborhoods: Logan Park, Sheridan, Bottineau and Holland. According to Schafer, most of Northeast’s robberies occurred along Central Avenue and near the bars on University. Many of the precinct’s aggravated assaults occurred in the same area, and most of them dealt with bars, alcohol and domestic incidents. There were a significant number of rapes reported in the area, although Schafer said they weren’t stranger rapes — they consisted of domestic assaults and alcohol–fueled situations involving acquaintances.

Schafer noted that the stats are less alarming when they are drawn out over time: Part I crime is up 4.16 percent, but it’s actually gone down 4.51 percent over the past two years. The same is true for violent crime: it rose 7.11 percent last year, but that’s down 8.13 percent from two years ago. In addition, Schafer said the 2nd Precinct doesn’t actually have a large number of incidents overall, so the percentages can look inflated even if changes are small.

The precinct’s goal for 2011 is to decrease crime by 5 percent. In order to do that, the department will build a team of people to analyze the factors driving crime in Logan Park, Sheridan, Bottineau and Holland.

“I’m very adamant that this is going to get some attention this year,” Schafer said.

He’s calling in help from departments across the city of Minneapolis, including Regulatory Services, the Problem Properties Unit, Fire Department and City Council.

“We’ll start picking off the most chronic areas and the most underlying issues,” Schafer said. “We’ll be watching for certain people in certain places.” The analysis could target specific chronic offenders out on probation, for example, or focus on a problem property to find where management is breaking down.

Schafer said a similar strategy proved successful in a crackdown last year on party houses near the University of Minnesota. Police collaborated with students, landlords and the University and completed lots of door-knocking to reduce the volume of unruly parties. By year end, administrative citations were down 51 percent and incivility calls were down 18 percent.

Schafer mentioned a couple of other 2010 success stories at a 2nd Precinct Advisory Council meeting on Jan. 10. Officers broke a case in which cars were stolen and towed to a scrap metal dealer to be crushed. In another case, two officers wrote a missing person report so detailed it was used to solve a homicide that occurred last summer. And during the recent snowstorms, officers tracked down plows and four-by-four trucks so they could respond to emergency calls as quickly as possible.

Many of the precinct’s goals for the coming year relate to the tight budgetary times. The 2nd Precinct’s staffing levels are actually as large as ever before, Schafer said, but other precincts lost officers.

“We’ve been told that resources are going to continue to shrink,” Schafer said.

In response, the 2nd Precinct has streamlined its investigative unit, cut out a layer of mid-management, and developed time-saving measures so staff can do their jobs with less red tape. Officers made 20,000 self-initiated stops in the precinct last year.

“That’s the kind of stuff that we really push the cops to do,” Schafer said. “If they’re out there being visible and they’re out there being aggressive, we know that it has an impact on crime.”

Meet Tom Thompson, Northeast’s new crime prevention specialist

After accepting a layoff from the Minneapolis Police Department during budget cuts last February, Tom Thompson was first in line to become the 2nd Precinct’s new crime prevention specialist.

The new job means Thompson will serve as the face of the police department for neighborhoods north of Broadway.

“I would really like to see crime and safety committees formed in these neighborhoods,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘My neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of crime.’ That’s the time to start a crime and safety committee, because then we can look at ways to keep it under control. … Let’s work on this stuff when we don’t have crime, rather than wait until that crisis happens.”

Thompson replaced retiree Carol Oosterhuis, who left last year after more than 19 years with the department.

Thompson’s experience ranges from chief of police in a Northwestern Wisconsin town, to a crime prevention officer teaching DARE classes in the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department.  He previously spent five years working as the crime prevention specialist in Southwest Minneapolis, where he started a Court Watch program that he’d like to bring to Northeast as well. The program enlisted the help of community members to track offenders through the court system and weigh in on their sentencing if necessary.

In Southwest, Thompson also consulted with Nicollet Avenue businesses on how to redesign their storefronts to reduce crime.

“We looked at specific businesses, we looked at specific areas, we looked at bus stops,” Thompson said. “We would try to get grants to do façade enhancements so we could get more lighting in an area so it was not as dark.”

Thompson said he enjoys providing safety training for residents, and he’d like to see new block clubs as informal as neighbors getting together to watch football games.

“If they’re plugged in, they’re in tune to what’s going on,” he said. “It’s really easy when we live in an urban environment for people to sit back and say, ‘That doesn’t affect me. It’s not my problem.’ Yes it is. If crime is happening on your block, it is your problem and you need to get involved.”