How to steer clear of robbers

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January 15, 2007 // UPDATED 10:58 am - April 26, 2007
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch

What’s motivating offenders? Police point to several factors

Police say they believe a string of robberies committed by juveniles in Loring Park has come to an end, but they urge walkers to remain vigilant.

1st Precinct Insp. Jane/ Harteau said juvenile robberies continue to occur sporadically throughout Downtown.

She said four to six groups of kids committing robberies last fall left the Loring Park area following the September arrest of three 15 year olds. A recent push to enforce curfew violations has caused some groups to conduct robberies earlier in the night, she said.

Lt. Bryan Schafer, commander of the Juvenile Unit, said juvenile robberies generally take place between 4 and 10 p.m. Juveniles tend to commit robberies in groups, he said, occasionally splitting up and surrounding a victim from more than one direction. Almost 4,000 juvenile-related cases were reported to the Juvenile Unit between May and December, Schafer said, involving more than 10,000 juveniles. Some robberies are thrill crimes that come with a sucker punch or assault, regardless of the victim’s cooperation.

Other juvenile robbery trends include incidents in alleys, assaults where the theft takes place after someone is knocked on the ground, and purse snatchings where bag straps are literally ripped away.

Although traditional safety pointers still apply, police said victims should understand that groups of juveniles are a bit bolder during confrontations — one robbery case that recently crossed Schafer’s desk occurred at 3 p.m. Cohorts of juveniles have also taken on three victims at once.

Crime Prevention Specialist Luther Krueger said walkers should trust their gut instincts.

“A few of the [Loring Park area] victims noticed [the robbers] well in advance,” Krueger said, citing literature that points out the uncanny ability people have at knowing when they are in danger. “Never drop your guard, even though the number of robberies has subsided substantially.”

Harteau advised pedestrians to call police if they are uneasy about groups of kids hanging out, so the juveniles know they are being watched.

“You’re seeing a lot more than you think you do prior to anything occurring,” she said.

Possible motives

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), said juvenile involvement in robberies is increasing nationwide.

“Many places across the country are seeing an increase in three major violent crimes: aggravated assault, robbery and murder, and robberies in particular are seeing a significant increase,” Wexler said. “Why it’s happening is hard to say.”

Schafer said there are many theories for the rise in juvenile involvement in robberies. The majority of robberies are still conducted for quick access to money, he said. Judge Tanya Bransford, presiding judge in the Hennepin County District Court’s Juvenile Division, said the need for money was one motive she recently heard from juveniles with no prior criminal history.

“They said, ‘We really need money; we need jobs; we need to help our moms; we need clothes,’” Bransford said.

Increasing gang violence may also be a factor. One theory used to explain the rising national number of juvenile robbery arrests is that the war on drugs has affected the street-level drug trade, causing gang members to look elsewhere for money.

A report by PERF quoted Police Chief Tim Dolan on that point.

“We’re seeing a growing gang problem with younger kids who have less access to narcotics engaging in robberies for money and terrorizing the streets in their areas,” Dolan said in the PERF report titled “A Gathering Storm —Violent Crime in America.”

Schafer said another theory points to an unstable economy and high unemployment rate to account for crimepatterns.

Robberies committed by all ages between January and May 2006 increased 35 percent over the same time period in 2005. Robberies committed in the second half of the year were up 19 percent over the second half of 2005.

“Adult crime rates are steady,” said Lt. Amelia Huffman, the Minneapolis Police Department’s public information officer. “The increase, particularly in robberies citywide, is attributed to the involvement of juveniles.”

According to Uniform Crime Reporting data, robbery arrests of juvenile offenders in Minneapolis rose from 129 arrests in 2003 to 161 in 2005. The last time juvenile arrests for robberies were tallied that high was in 2001, with 176 arrests. As of November, juvenile arrests for robbery in 2006 reached 136, and that number was tracking right in line with the comparable year-to-date stats from 2005.

Neighborhood statistics from January through November 2006 indicate that Downtown West saw significantly more robberies than the other Downtown neighborhoods. Loring Park reported at least 48 robberies, Elliot Park had 36 robberies, Downtown East had 12, Downtown West had 132, North Loop had 41 and Nicollet Island had four.

The city’s reinstated Juvenile Unit includes a Juvenile Apprehension Task Force, which was originally set to expire in September and is now continuing indefinitely. The task force works to track down juveniles with outstanding warrants, a group that numbers in the thousands. Between the beginning of June and the end of December, the task force made 189 apprehensions and checked 502 homes. Surprisingly, 14 juveniles voluntarily turned themselves in when they learned the task force was searching for them, Schafer said. He noted a 69 percent increase in charges filed against juveniles involved in robberies since the Juvenile Unit was reinstalled.

Bransford said juvenile crime penalties are tailored to each child’s criminal history as well as the culpability and severity of the offense, but people should not assume these sentences are light.

“It is true that for theft and things that don’t involve people, property types of offenses, juveniles can have community service, probation or counseling,” Bransford said. “I think the attitude is that young people who come to Juvenile Court get a slap on the wrist. But that’s definitely not true for robberies.”

If a juvenile is guilty of an aggravated robbery, meaning an offense with a weapon or severe use of force, Bransford said it is fairly common for the individual to be removed from home and placed in a long-term residential treatment facility for nine to 18 months.

Bransford said if the juvenile robbery involves a gun, it is not unusual for the child to be certified into the adult court, which could mean prison time for a guilty verdict.

Jeanne Torma, program manager in Hennepin County Juvenile Probation, said a common disposition in robbery cases is Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction (EJJ). EJJ applies to children who are kept in the juvenile system with an adult sentence that may be imposed if terms of probation are violated. Most of the juveniles in the system are immediately sent to a long-term, out-of-home placement.

“A lot more juveniles are coming into Juvenile Court for robberies, oftentimes in groups,” Torma said. “A lot more kids are designated EJJ, and that’s been the trend for a good year now.”