Police using new strategies to fight North Side crime

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Many Camden areas residents are concerned about recent increases in serious crime on the Northside. According to Minneapolis Police Department statistics, as of April 17, overall crime in the 4th Precinct was up 17 percent from a year ago. The violent crimes of rape, robbery and aggravated assault all showed a significant increase while the number of homicides in the Precinct remained unchanged from the previous year (nine). Although these statistics represent the entire 4th Precinct, several Camden neighborhoods were particularly hard hit with robberies and burglaries.

Late in 2005, Northside officers noted a sharp increase in armed robberies in several parts of the Precinct. In response to this, 4th Precinct command staff organized a 4th Precinct Robbery Task Force. This task force, which is still active, consists of 10 officers supervised by Sgt. Louis Porras, a veteran Northside street sergeant. Officers for the Task Force were drawn from the 4th Precinct Mid Watch (the 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift). Their experience as Northside officers allowed them to hit the ground running when they joined the Task Force. When they’re not actively working a robbery detail they’re still available to back up patrol officers on 911 calls. As a result, normal 911 response times have not been hurt by their activities.

The Robbery Task Force targets high robbery areas and uses a variety of techniques and tactics to identify and arrest robbery suspects. When an emerging pattern of robberies is detected the Task Force saturates the area with both uniformed officers and unmarked squads. Through a combination of rigorous enforcement, working with field contacts, suspect and witness debriefing, and other actions, the Task Force is able to quickly identify and arrest suspects and build cases against them. As word of the Task Force hit the streets, the number of robberies declined sharply.

One recent example of the Task Force’s success involves the so-called “Jump Out Boys.” In a two day period in early March, there were a dozen robberies and several car jackings carried out by the same group of suspects. These robberies took place in the Willard Hay, Near North, Cleveland, Folwell and Jordan neighborhoods. This group would car jack a vehicle (that is, they would steal the car at gunpoint from the owner) and then use that vehicle to commit further robberies. On the first night alone they carjacked an individual, attempted to carjack another individual, hit her vehicle and left the scene, robbed two more individuals, attempted to rob two others and stole another vehicle. On one occasion, one of the suspects told a victim that he had just been robbed by “The Jump Out Boys.” By quickly responding to this pattern of robberies the Robbery Task Force was able to identify the majority of the members and make several arrests. As a result of their investigation, the “Jump Out Boys” have stopped “Jumping Out.”

According to Sgt. Porras, “Once word got out that there was a robbery task force, the number of robberies on the Northside went way down. In the week before Christmas, there were over 30 robberies in the Precinct. Now that the Task Force is established, there are a lot of Mid Watch shifts that don’t have any reported robberies at all. Although it’s definitely had an impact, it’s not just because of the Task Force. All the cops and the lieutenants in the Precinct have been working hard to bring these numbers down.”

The Task Force has also been well received in the streets where it operates. According to Porras, “Even though we’re doing some aggressive enforcement and we’re stopping and questioning a lot of people, we have not generated one complaint in the five months we’ve been in operation. When we stop someone who lives in the area and explain to them what we’re doing, they’re happy to see us.” Porras credits the officers on the street for the success of the program. “Even though they’re stopping and questioning a lot of people in the area, they’re very courteous and professional. They’ve done an excellent job with this and have brought a very high level of professionalism to the task force. The street officers are the ones who are doing the work, and they deserve the credit.”

The Task Force will broaden its focus beginning in June. While they’ll still respond to robbery patterns, they’ll also work on other issues, such as auto theft, burglary and other livability crimes. There is currently a call out to other officers interested in joining the Task Force to replace some of the current members who are rotating out.

In addition to the Robbery Task Force, a group of 4th Precinct Officers have begun what they call the Sector 2 Initiative. Sector 2 covers everything between Dowling and Broadway Avenues, and includes three Camden neighborhoods – Cleveland, Folwell and McKinley. This group of 14 officers meets every Tuesday to review the previous week’s results and plan their strategy for the coming week. Like the Robbery Task Force, they look for developing hot spots in the sector and concentrate their efforts there. Their recent focus on the area around Lowry and Bryant and Star Foods has made a dramatic difference in the level of street activity there. Wafana’s at 24th and Lyndale has also seen a startling decline in loitering and illicit activity since they started concentrating their efforts there.

The Sector 2 Initiative has also taken a page from the CCP/SAFE playbook by doing concerted community outreach in specific areas. They recently flyered the entire 26th Avenue corridor and spoke to numerous residents about a variety of crime and safety issues. They plan to conduct a variety of details and operations throughout the sector in the coming months.

In addition to these efforts, the ranks of the 4th Precinct are also growing. In response to a call from Interim Chief Dolan five officers have transferred to the Northside from other parts of the city, and more transfers are expected. According to Dolan, “A lot of cops are eager to come up to the 4th Precinct to work.” The extra $2 million in aid from the state that resulted from Chief Dolan’s recent meeting with Governor Pawlenty will be used to increase police visibility and presence in high profile, high traffic areas of the city and will have a positive effect on police levels city wide. “By taking areas like downtown off our plate, we can keep more officers out in the precincts,” said Dolan.

Chief Dolan also expressed the department’s commitment to continue its community policing initiatives. “We hope to see more beat officers along some of the more heavily traveled corridors on the Northside, like Broadway and 26th Avenues.” Dolan specifically cited the Sector 2 Initiative as one example of cops taking ownership of the crime and safety issues in their sector. “It’s about sitting down with the community and opening the lines of communication between the community and the police. It can’t be driven solely by the police or by the community. Real progress has to come from both elements working together,” Dolan said. “We need to have more people in the community working with us. We need to broaden our base of block clubs; they’re the eyes and ears for us. Anonymity is important to the average criminal, and it’s a lot harder for them to operate in areas where we have a good network of observant citizens. Block clubs are also more skilled in dealing with problem properties and we have better success in solving those problems in areas where the block club is active. The more you know your neighbors and the kids in your neighborhood, the safer you are.”

Dolan also urges residents to make an effort to get to know more of the cops who work in their sector. “Go to your community meetings and get to know who your sector lieutenants and officers are. Community policing is a two way street. We’re still evolving, but the department’s definitely moving in that direction.”

Even though the 4th Precinct has experienced a significant increase in crime in the past year, several new strategies and initiatives, by the MPD, along with an increase in staffing, have helped to reverse those trends. A continued commitment to address these serious problems by both the Minneapolis Police Department and the residents of the Northside is required to ensure that those trends continue in the right direction.

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