The claim that six families or groups are responsible for the bulk of the crime in Minneapolis has been a consistent theme of Don Samuels’ mayoral campaign, repeated at numerous forums and events throughout the summer.

Top law enforcement officials and community members said there is some truth to it, particularly with some families passing crime from one generation to the next.

“I think they call it a ‘life of crime’ for a reason,” Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Kris Arneson said Friday.

Samuels declined this week to name the families, some of which he said are made up of people loosely related to one another, or in some cases not related but simply affiliated with each other. Naming them would hinder his chances of building trust, said Samuels, and he says as part of his mayoral campaign that he intends to reach out to each family or group.

Others contacted for this story said exactly who is on the list and whether it’s six families or more is open for debate.

Since first making the claim this summer during a campaign news conference, the City Council member said he plans to cut crime via a fairly progressive mix of social programs and prevention-through-intervention measures with the six families.

But talk of the six often draws attention from his crime-fighting plan. “I mention it and the room goes quiet,” said Samuels, who developed his theory of six while looking through weekly crime reports as chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee.

Local law enforcement leaders said it’s common for them to see the same people day in and day out.

“We do have violent chronic offenders in the city and we do track those folks,” said Arneson. “Those offenders all have their crime of choice that they like to do.” While violent offenders are more into intimidation, assaults and robberies, a separate set of chronic offenders “swirl around in that burglary and theft ring,” she said.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said Samuels’ view is well known by sheriff’s deputies, too.

“Don is right in one respect, and unfortunately crime is sometimes generational,” Stanek said.

High-profile crime

The shooting death of 5-year-old Nizzel George was the result of a back-and-forth fight between two groups of youths, some of whom were well known to police officers before the shooting. A police investigation linked the fight back to another homicide that killed a Minneapolis teenager, a slaying that involved people linked to yet more crimes.

The two groups involved were made up of relatives, friends and neighbors, but family ties are always significant, said Stanek.

As for Samuels’ six families, Stanek said he could guess at the names of at least half of them, since the Sheriff’s Office sees many of the same criminals as Minneapolis police do.

Children born into these families will see adults in their family get thrown into jail, or will be introduced to drug dealing or shoplifting scams or stealing credit cards and other types of fraud, he said.

“The community has to declare this a public health hazard,” he said. “The community can’t stand it.”

The idea that there are six major crime groups in the city struck Rev. Jerry McAfee of New Salem Baptist Church as “about right.” “It’s a small number of people,” he said.

Earlier effort

Samuels’ prescription for dealing with the problem rang too familiar for McAfee, though, as he recalled a similar program that was supposed to take place under former Fourth Precinct Inspector Lee Edwards. Back then, Edwards, Spike Moss and Minneapolis police officer Mike Martin (who would later go on to head the Fourth Precinct) were supposed to introduce a program that would address some of the city’s worst criminals head on by bringing them into McAfee’s church, have a community intervention with them, and talk about changing behavior.

The program didn’t get off the ground, but McAfee said to hear Samuels talking now about something similar made him wonder why it took so long to introduce.

“Why can’t you do that now in the seat that you’re in?” he asked.

When he was a sergeant on the Minneapolis Police Department, Greg Hestness drew up a list of repeat offenders in property crimes. Hestness, now the chief of police at the University of Minnesota, said he and another officer who wrote the list called it their “Top 40.”

“There’s a limited number of career offenders who are responsible for a vastly disproportionate amount of crime,” he said.