The rash of crimes targeting people for iPhones, iPads and other technology was partly behind a surge in the number of robberies last year in Minneapolis.
The jump was part of an overall increase in violent crime in the city, but there were some bright spots in Police Department figures released Tuesday: Burglaries, homicides and rapes were all down from 2012 to 2013, and overall violent crime levels remained near a 30-year low.
Police Chief Janeé Harteau said the increase in robberies is disappointing, and she reminded people to take precautions. Some robberies took place on the University of Minnesota campus, where students walk around with cellphones in hand.
“We always say you don’t walk up the street with a handful of money but you’re pretty comfortable with having your phone in your hand, so it is about prevention,” she said at a news conference for the department’s annual year-in-crime review.
Citywide, robberies are up nearly 8 percent and up 39 percent in north Minneapolis. Harteau added that police are seeing more guns and replica guns used in robberies.
Harteau said she’s assigned more officers to the robbery and assault units as a result. She was joined by new Mayor Betsy Hodges, who said she supports funding to help increase the number of sworn officers, which is currently at 812, one of the lowest totals in the past decade.
Overall, violent crimes — homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults combined — are up just over 4 percent.
Speaking at the Hennepin County Library’s Northeast branch, Harteau put a spotlight on police work in the city’s Second Precinct, which covers northeast and southeast Minneapolis. Crime levels there have dropped for at least two years in a row.
It was the first police news conference for Hodges, and the first public statement she and Harteau have made together since they made news last fall over a police body-camera program, when they seemed to disagree about the speed with which the department could start outfitting officers with the cameras.
Hodges said Tuesday that the body-camera program was pushing ahead; a spokesman for the department said the police expect to test the cameras sometime this year.
Harteau, who just finished her first year as chief, said she plans to continue a series of changes she brought to the department, including walking beats on the city’s North Side. She said officers have taken the initiative, getting out of their cars and patrolling there and elsewhere in the city on foot, making it easier to meet people. Harteau said she may expand the walking beats to other parts of the city.
More officers to be hired?
Harteau doesn’t have many officers to spare: With 812 sworn officers, the department is down sharply in size. The force has typically had 850 to 900 officers over the past 10 years, with the exception of a three-year span starting in 2004 when it fell to around 800.
An increase in violent crime seemed to correspond with that period, and violent crime numbers fell when more officers were hired in the early days of former Chief Tim Dolan’s tenure in 2006 and 2007.
Asked about the force’s numbers, Hodges said she plans to fund the department to a full complement of officers. Asked what that meant, Harteau said the goal is to employ 850 officers.
Police Union President John Delmonico said if that’s the goal, then the force is currently short about eight officers in each of the city’s five precincts.
The city typically sees 30 officers a year retire or quit, and Delmonico said he’s expecting many retirements before July 1.
Unless recruits are put into the pipeline soon, the department could head into the busy summer crime season with fewer than 800 officers.
“It’s January, and summer comes quick,” said Delmonico.
Where crime is down
Citywide, the number of burglary cases dropped by 167 cases, or about 3.5 percent.
In the Second Precinct, where burglary numbersdropped 13 percent, Lt. Bruce Jensen said a focus on repeat offenders helped.
“Recidivism is what drives the numbers for property crimes,” he said.
“You don’t have people who shoot 50 people a year, but you do have people who commit 50 burglaries a year.”
Crime alerts and tips from the precinct’s residents have helped the police crack down on burglars as well, he said.
Burglary numbers dropped in downtown, northeast, southeast and north Minneapolis but rose slightly in the south and southwest parts of the city.
Harteau said she’s also pleased with the work the department did with juveniles in 2013, pushing juvenile crime down by about 4.6 percent.
Some of that work has been done by the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, which sent people out onto Nicollet Mall seven days a week over the summer months to talk with young people. The program dropped to five days a week in the fall before wrapping up in November.
The Downtown Youth Street Outreach Project tried to steer kids toward positive events at the library, downtown YMCA and elsewhere.
Harteau said she’s planning a youth leadership summit for later this year, primarily for African-American and East African youths.
She’s also forming a youth “Chief’s Advisory Council” to hear what the city’s young people need.
“I’d really like to see our next line of community leaders come from this group,” Harteau said. “They’ve got the solutions. We need to bring them to the table.”