Police worked with local businesses to beat back crime spikes that hit Central Avenue and the lower riverfront bar scene. By the end of the year, violent crime was down 13 percent. But Northeast continues to battle property crime, with those offenses rising 4 percent last year.
“What plagued us was the robberies,” said 2nd Precinct Insp. Bryan Schafer in a recent presentation on 2011 crime.
Northeast saw an uptick in robberies and violence on Central last spring, shortly after the tornado landed in North Minneapolis.
In response, police created a new Central Avenue beat to work after school until curfew. Officers became tight partners with probation, reminded business owners they could report truants, and worked with police in North Minneapolis to learn about chronic offenders straying into Northeast.
“I can tell you that since we started that beat, violent crime in that zone around Jackson Square Park just about dried up,” Schafer said. “We don’t always have the luxury of pulling two cops out of the rank-and-file to dedicate some special attention to an area, but we did it.”
He said police are working to get ahead of youth crime issues in the future. They are collaborating with other agencies to explore new initiatives, such as additional park programming. Police also met with criminologists from George Mason University to look at new ways to combat robberies near the university.
“We’re being a little bit more surgical so [officers] are almost exactly where they need to be,” Schafer said.
He said the same neighborhoods that saw the most crime in 2010 were hit again in 2011, notably Holland, Sheridan, Bottineau and Logan Park.
The Mid-City Industrial neighborhood is now organized to help confront its crime. The neighborhood lies roughly between 35W, Hennepin Avenue, Industrial Boulevard and Johnson Street. The area has a few unique crime issues, such as street racing after the businesses empty out.
Another group that formed last year was the Northeast Court Watch. Citizens meet with prosecutors on a monthly basis to follow Northeast’s chronic offenders through the court system, and they write letters to judges to help impact sentencing.
Businesses also formed a new coalition last fall, as more robberies started hitting the night spots around 13th Avenue, 4th Street and University Avenue Northeast.
“It’s getting to be a very busy place,” Schafer said. “The businesses really stepped up and said we have to preserve this up-and-coming business area, and the only way to do that is to provide extra protection.”
Business contributions were matched with grant dollars to pay for two extra police officers to patrol the lower riverfront. The new beat worked every Friday and Saturday night for the entire holiday season.
“[We] pushed virtually all of the crime out of that area,” Schafer said.
Crime Prevention Specialist Nick Juarez said he expects discussions to resume later this spring about bringing back the beat. Police are also discussing improved lighting and other features that could make the area safer.
At a Feb. 13 2nd Precinct Advisory Committee meeting, Ritz Theater Board Member Michael Rainville personally thanked Schafer for stopping the crime spate.
“When guests come to our community, they are naïve. And when they start getting robbed, it’s bad for everybody,” Rainville said. “You reacted very quickly and rapidly and effectively, and we thank you for that.”
Schafer said he hopes the success of the initiative will entice the Minneapolis Police Department to allocate one or two additional officers to the 2nd Precinct.
“[We have] the lowest-staffed precinct in the city,” Schafer said. “And we lead the entire police department in field contacts.”
Elliot Wong, a well-known beat cop on the Northeast riverfront, leads the city in field contacts.
“We know who these people are, where they are and what crimes they’re most likely to be committing,” Schafer said.
Although Northeast fought robbery spikes last year, the broader picture shows that crime in Minneapolis is at its lowest level in decades. Violent crime in Minneapolis fell 6.3 percent in 2011, which is a 28-year low. Schafer said robbery rates are as low now as they were in the mid-80s. But victims shouldn’t allow themselves to be easy targets, he said.
“We have people walking out of bars, maybe walking home alone, intoxicated, not aware of their surroundings,” Schafer said. “I blame some of this on technology. You can throw a set of headphones on and you’re listening to your iPod. You’re walking down the street and you have no clue — we have people that walk out in front of cars because they don’t pay attention.”
Reach Michelle Bruch at firstname.lastname@example.org.