Burglaries drive up Minneapolis crime rate

Violent crime fell in Minneapolis, but robberies and car thefts were problems downtown.

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While violent crime fell this year in Minneapolis, a rising number of burglaries and thefts have driven the overall crime level higher for the second year in a row, city statistics show.

Police say criminals are shifting from drug dealing to home break-ins. Auto thefts and robberies have also jumped downtown.

"We're seeing a major change in street crime," Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said. "Burglaries are becoming the trade of people who want to make money quick."

Burglaries rose nearly 5 percent, from 4,590 last year to 4,816 so far this year with two weeks yet to go. Larcenies -- defined as thefts unconnected with break-ins or robberies -- are up more than 11 percent, from 6,905 last year to 7,688 this year.

Those two categories drove a 2.74 percent increase in serious crime in Minneapolis this year, even as homicide fell 13 percent, rape fell 23 percent, aggravated assault fell 11 percent and domestic aggravated assault fell 1.5 percent.

St. Paul also saw a rise in residential burglaries, although most other categories of property crime dropped. Homicides fell dramatically in St. Paul.

Robberies were also up in some areas of Minneapolis, and accounted for the only violent crime to increase this year in the city, from 1,490 cases last year to 1,509 cases this year.

While property crimes don't get as much attention as crimes against persons, they inflict intense emotional and economic distress upon victims.

Anna Carlson, 27, said it was "pretty awful" when burglars hit her home in the area of 34th and Newton Avenues N. while she was at work one day in July.

Usually alert neighbors didn't suspect anything when they saw people removing items from the home, moving back and forth freely through the unlocked front door. One of four burglars had broken the window on the back door unseen, then let the others in through the front door. One neighbor did notice, and called 911, after spotting a suspicious man in the alley, but police arrived too late to foil the swift and systematic burglary. They nabbed only one of the thieves, who was hustling down the alley wearing Carlson's down jacket on a hot day, trying to conceal several electronic items.

But the bulk of what was stolen -- including two TVs, a Wii and Carlson's purse, which she didn't usually take to her job as a city bus driver "because passengers have been known to steal them" -- has never been found, she said.

"You really feel violated," said Carlson, who has a 2-year-old son. "To think there was some stranger in my house -- it's pretty scary." She's since gotten an alarm system.

Fourth Precinct Inspector Mike Martin said burglars hit north Minneapolis especially hard following the May 22 tornado. Burglary rose more than 21 percent in the precinct this year, from 1,263 cases last year to 1,534 this year. Violent crime fell by 8 percent.

Martin said changes in the drug trade have reduced the profit margins for small-time dealers. Youths who might have turned to selling drugs for quick money find it's more profitable to break into a house and steal electronics or jewelry, he said.

Downtown

The story downtown does not match the city's overall crime direction, with a 16 percent increase in robberies, from 195 last year to 227 so far this year, and a stunning 47 percent increase in car theft, from 120 last year to 176 this year. First Precinct Inspector Kris Arneson said she's been concerned by the robberies.

"A lot of that has been focused around Nicollet Mall with youth," she said. She has officers focusing on curfew and truancy enforcement.

The robberies have frightened residents of the North Loop, said David Frank, president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association. Frank said neighbors want police to patrol their area during and after bars close, a time when police usually have to focus on the crowds surging out of dance clubs and bars along 1st Avenue N.

The rise in car thefts doesn't seem to have any one cause, although police did arrest two men earlier this year who were using a tow truck to steal cars and sell them to a scrap yard. It's believed the men scrapped dozens of vehicles before they were caught.

Property crime

Elsewhere in the city, the story has been about burglary. Third Precinct Inspector Lucy Gerold said she became concerned earlier this year.

"It seemed like we weren't getting ahead of it, even though we were having a full-court press," she said. Gerold drew up a plan for a property crimes court watch, a system that asks residents to write impact statements after a burglary in the neighborhood.

The statements go to the judge sentencing the burglar in the hopes it will increase penalties. The program started last spring and the precinct so far has received more than 100 statements on different cases, Gerold said.

The precinct also runs a website with photos of suspected burglars.

"I think what the community wants to do is to communicate to the system that it's not just the homeowner. The whole community is victimized," said Gayle Baez, the managing senior attorney for the community prosecution division of the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.

St. Paul

St. Paul's most violent crimes dropped by a hair -- 0.6 percent -- from Jan. 1 through Dec. 15 compared to the same time frame in 2010.

The most dramatic changes were a 46.6 percent drop in homicides, from 15 in 2010 to eight this year, and a 13.6 percent increase in residential burglaries.

"We are not able to point to a specific reason" for the drop in homicides, said officer John Keating, a police spokesman.

The drop in homicide is a welcome change for the city, which experienced a 13 percent increase in homicides from 2009 to 2010.

Although residential burglaries are up, most other property crimes in the city dropped by double digits. Keating said most residential burglaries are crimes of opportunity where perpetrators are making quick grabs at whatever goods are available.

"One trend we noted among some of these residential burglaries are items are being taken from garages that are often left unlocked or opened," he said. To combat that, police are making patrols through alleys to check on garages, leaving crime-prevention fliers at homes with unsecured doors.

Staff writer Pamela Miller contributed to this report. Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

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