There is reason to be alarmed by a recent crime increase in Minneapolis Downtown East — similar to problems that have long plagued downtown’s western entertainment district.
Police reported last week that criminal activity has risen dramatically in the area around U.S. Bank Stadium, a part of town that attracts millions of visitors. In addition, thousands more people live and work in the area compared to even 10 years ago. Much of the crime increase likely reflects the higher number of people in the area.
But the situation demands leadership and action.
Ongoing City Hall disputes over police staffing don’t help. Police department leaders argue that more officers are needed to handle more calls and improve response times. But some City Council members and community advocates believe additional cops would contribute to the overpolicing of communities of color.
It doesn’t have to be either-or. Properly trained officers can be helpful in minority communities that want better response times to their complaints.
Serious crimes such as robbery, burglary and assault rose by 70% last year in Downtown East, according to a Star Tribune news analysis, compared with an annual average between 2015-2018 — driven mostly by large jumps in burglaries and larcenies as the area’s population has grown by thousands since the last census in 2010, and new shops, hotels, restaurants and condos have opened.
Many of Downtown East’s problems are “crimes of opportunity’’ and stem from homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues, according to Pam McCrea, chairwoman of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association. She noted that a police substation across the street from the Mill City Museum is expected to open sometime in the next six months.
While that new station will be welcome, experience with the main downtown station has shown its presence alone doesn’t deter crime. Officers need to be seen and get to know their beats to make a difference.
In an e-mail to an editorial writer, a city spokesperson said the city has increased funding for the Downtown Improvement District to $267,000, which will help support initiatives such as the Late Night Ambassador Program. And the city is piloting a new program that should provide greater stability for the homeless. He said the joint downtown summer policing effort with the Hennepin County Sheriffs office will begin earlier this year — in April, rather than May. And when a new class of officers graduates later this year more staff will be available to cover city beats.
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously argued, downtown crime and safety concerns can have a wide impact, given downtown’s burgeoning resident population of more than 60,000 and the vast numbers who work and seek entertainment there. Downtown businesses and residents understandably worry about their property investments should the area’s reputation deteriorate. Taxpayers, whose public dollars were used to create many downtown amenities, could also lose out.
Improving the reality and perception of downtown safety demands urgent attention from city authorities.