Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan spoke along with Mayor R.T. Rybak, left, and others at a news conference Monday.

David Brewster, Star Tribune

Violent crime in Mpls. dips to '80s rates

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY
  • Star Tribune
  • December 20, 2010 - 10:06 PM

A year in Minneapolis that began with a violent series of homicides is drawing to a close as one of the least violent in 25 years.

The news comes amid similar reports nationwide that have escaped easy explanation. Mayor R.T. Rybak and Police Chief Tim Dolan said at a news conference Monday that aggressive policing, a focus on gun violence and patrols of the city's hot spots were at least partly responsible for the city's improved violent crime rate, including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

"We're extremely proud of the work we've done," said Rybak, speaking from the city's Fifth Precinct headquarters, which reported the city's sharpest drop in crime this year.

The city's overall crime rate -- the four violent crimes plus burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson -- is slightly above last year's as of Dec. 13. That's still regarded as good news by Dolan, who pointed out that last year's crime totals were among the lowest seen in decades.

"These are numbers we haven't seen since the '60s," he said.

The crime rate last year was so low that even some categories that showed an increase this year are well below levels of two years ago. Auto theft is up 7 percent this year, but it's down 21 percent from two years ago.

Minneapolis so far this year saw a 5.2 percent drop in violent crime, making this year one of the best since 1984. There have been fewer robberies in 2010 than in any year since 1983.

Robbery, aggravated assault and rape are down between 2.8 and 6.7 percent from 2009. Homicides, including a spree at the beginning of the year that fanned concerns about the city's crime rate, have doubled for the year so far, from 19 to 39. However, homicide totals in the past three years are among the lowest in 25 years.

Larcenies are up 3.4 percent to 11,285 this year from 10,910 last year, a rise that police attribute to thieves smashing into cars to steal smart phones, GPS units and other electronic items.

Nationally, new statistics released Monday by the FBI showed a 6.2 percent drop in violent crime for the first six months of the year. Property crimes nationwide fell in the first half of the year by 2.8 percent, the FBI reported, which counted totals of motor vehicle theft, larceny and burglary. Murder was down 6.3 percent in the Midwest, the FBI said.

New predictive strategies

Dolan partially credited the city's improved crime rate to a department initiative begun several months ago to use predictive analysis, an emerging field of study that uses data to predict future trends.

Sgt. Jeff Egge, who heads the department's crime analysis unit, said officers used to get a compilation of crime statistics from the previous week. Now, with analysis conducted by his office, patrol officers get color-coded maps showing where they should expect the most criminal activity.

Along with a bank of more than 1,500 city video cameras monitored by the Police Department from a new office, the use of predictive analysis can help patrol officers stay atop rapidly changing criminal enterprises, he said.

Dolan and Rybak also praised the ideas behind Project Exile, a partnership begun in June with the U.S. attorney's office that targeted career criminals who fell afoul of gun possession laws that forbid repeat felons from carrying weapons. Several felons with criminal records back to the 1980s have been arrested on illegal gun possession charges under the project and face prison sentences of 15 years as a result.

Patrol officers have worked to stop suspicious vehicles, as well, Dolan said. Statistics show driving infractions are often an indicator of illegal activity; gang members are more likely to drive without a license, for example.

People who call 911 to report low-level crimes also help, as those events often help police track down criminals capable of more serious crimes, the chief said.

At the city's news conference, restaurant owner Sonja Hayden spoke of her 15 years of operating a business on Hennepin Avenue S. Her staff often calls in low-level crimes, she said, and have found the police responsive.

"It's been a very long time since I've been made to feel that a 911 call was a nuisance," said Hayden, who owns the Duplex restaurant in Uptown.

City Council Member Don Samuels, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, said one of his concerns after last year's low crime rate was that new criminals would step in to take over for those who were caught.

"Whenever we have a lull like this, you always kind of hold your breath," Samuels said. "But I think what this second year has shown is that we can quickly move in on those characters who are trying to be the new players, take them out and maintain the community's control of the environment. That's what we want. "

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

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