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It would be wrong to conclude -- based on just six months' worth of statistics -- that Minneapolis has violent crime under control. It's similarly unwise to judge the extent of the crime problem in any U.S. city based only on headlines, online discussions and TV reports.
Context is critical, and it's often lost in today's intense media competition. That's why it's important to take note of Monday's news that violent crime in Minneapolis fell 14 percent in the first half of 2008. That's on top of a 13 percent decline in 2007, which means the city is seeing the makings of a trend rather than a statistical snapshot in time.
Even in a nasty economic downturn -- the kind in which violence often spikes, especially in lower-income areas -- murders fell from 32 at this point in 2006 to 18 through June 2008. Violent crimes such as rape, robbery and aggravated assault dropped 13 percent from last year, and property crimes such as burglary and car theft fell 16 percent. Minneapolis remains a vibrant, relatively safe city, and the January-June crime numbers provide more evidence that the strategies adopted by Police Chief Tim Dolan and Mayor R.T. Rybak are producing results. More specifically, the city's emphasis on juvenile crime seems to be working.
Rybak recalls attending the funeral of 18-year-old Brian Cole in 2006 and feeling helpless as the future of north Minneapolis filed by the drive-by shooting victim's coffin. On that day, Rybak wasn't sure how to address the city's cycle of crime. Today, he says, youth violence programs are providing answers.
After recognizing two years ago that juveniles were committing up to half of the city's violent crimes, police and city officials put more emphasis on prevention. The Police Department's Juvenile Unit has handled more than 2,000 cases this year in its push to identify at-risk youth as early as possible and connect them with service agencies such as the Juvenile Supervision Center. The center tries to put curfew and truancy violators back on track before they commit more serious crimes. The effort appears to be paying off: Today, juveniles commit about 20 percent of the city's violent crimes.
The impact of putting more police on the streets should not be overlooked. MPD added 32 officers in 2008, bringing its total to 879. That's the highest number since 2000, and arrests are up 4 percent. Maintaining or growing the police presence must continue to be a priority for the city even in these budget-stretched times. There's also mounting evidence that the 135 public safety cameras now in use in parts of the city are a significant deterrent.
That's especially the case in north Minneapolis, where violent crime fell 17 percent through June. Reducing crime on the North Side is important for the entire city, just as a safe, healthy Minneapolis is vital to the state and region.
If Minneapolis can continue to make progress on violent crime, says the cautiously optimistic Rybak, it can shift more resources into addressing so-called livability crimes, such as burglary, that affect far more residents. That's a worthy goal.
Another heinous Minneapolis crime may dominate the news today, tomorrow or next week. There may be an increase in violent crime next month. But the numbers over the last 18 months show real progress -- the kind of progress that may be a foundation for a safer Minneapolis in the future.