Reported crime has edged up in Minneapolis so far this year, leaving city officials, police and community leaders to wonder whether the increase is an aberration or a sign of a major crime trend in the state’s largest city.
The nearly 13% jump in violent crime mirrors a similar trend across the river in St. Paul, where law enforcement officials are scrambling to quell a recent spate of violence.
In Minneapolis, police data show that the city’s 37 homicides climbed 32% from 28 this time last year, while aggravated assaults, rapes and robberies also rose during the first 10 months of the year, contributing to the increase in reports of violent crime, according to newly released Police Department statistics. The data show that property crime reports were up nearly 15% during the same period.
This comes on the heels of a sharp decline the year before, when the city logged 30-year lows in many crime categories, according to deputy police chief Erick Fors.
“When you have significant crime reductions, those are difficult numbers to compare yourself against,” said Fors, who runs the department’s Investigative Bureau, while stressing that no one factor can explain the sudden jump. “If there’s anything that we learned over time, it’s that we don’t get anywhere without our partnerships — we’re just one leg of the chair, and we can’t do it alone, and the community can’t do it alone, and the courts can’t do it alone.”
For the year to date, violent crime is down 3% compared to the previous five-year average, police statistics show. The number of shooting victims is up roughly 9% to 234 — still down from the previous 5-year average of 241. About half of shootings happen in Minneapolis’ 4th Precinct.
The increase has emerged as a significant issue in the debate over police resources, which reached a boiling point this fall with the release of viral videos showing people being violently assaulted and robbed after leaving downtown bars. Advocates of adding more officers worry about a reversal of a steady decline that began in the 1990s, as the city continues its rapid growth.
Mayor Jacob Frey, who has asked for 14 new officers, said the rising violence underscored the need for a different approach to addressing crime and its causes, pointing to recent bail reform efforts, increased “resources for economic inclusion” and further investment in affordable housing, seen as a major hurdle for former offenders trying to reintegrate into society.
At the same time, he said the shortage of officers was likely a contributing factor, calling it “unacceptable” that thousands of high-priority 911 calls couldn’t be immediately assigned because of a lack of available police squads. “There’s no quicker way to erode trust in a police department [than] to call 911 and not have somebody show up,” he said.
Others question the conventional assumption that more cops equal less crime. They argue that police have relatively little impact on crime rates, while creating friction with minority communities.
“We see the gun violence, the domestic violence, the racism, the addictions and overdoses, the lack of affordable housing,” said Yolanda Hare of Black Visions Collective, one of the community groups arguing against additional police funding. “Fifty years of trying to solve these problems with more and more police has not solved them, it’s just landed more black and brown people behind bars.”
On Thursday, proponents on both sides of the issue crowded City Council chambers for a meeting on Frey’s 2020 budget that featured hours of dueling testimony.
The increase in 2019 comes after a year in which the city saw crime dip, mirroring a statewide trend.
In 2018, FBI statistics showed a 26% reduction in violent crime compared to the previous year, making it one of the safest years in Minneapolis in decades. Those statistics showed that its smaller and safer neighbor to the east, St. Paul, also saw crime decline from 2017 to 2018, albeit by a more modest 3%.
At the same time, violent crimes like homicide and rape fell 8% statewide in that span, marking a 33% decline from the early 1990s crime surge.
In St. Paul, a string of recent headline-grabbing shootings has sent city and community leaders scrambling to find solutions to the city’s growing gang violence. While shootings have increased to 147 so far this year, from 135 at the same time in 2018, most other violent crimes have decreased, with the exception of homicides, which are up 73%.
At the same time, property crimes are up across the board, department statistics show.
Those who study crime statistics tend to caution against reading too much into yearly fluctuations. Joshua Page, an associate professor of sociology and law at the University of Minnesota, said that crime rates are better analyzed over longer periods, with yearly changes often linked to demographic and social trends that when misinterpreted can lead to poor policy choices.
“One-year changes can be due to things like changes in reporting, changes in policing, changes in relationships between gangs, and gang activity, which don’t necessarily signal a longtime trend,” Page said, while adding the “caveat of always understanding that any increase of crime is problematic for those who are experiencing it.”
In Minneapolis, the violence varies by police precinct.
The downtown area has recorded 20% more such violent crime incidents compared to this time last year. Such incidents are also up 13% in the North Side 4th Precinct, while the 2nd and 3rd precincts have seen more modest increases.
According to the statistics, violent crime has risen 23% in the 5th Precinct, which covers most of the affluent neighborhoods in the city’s southwest corner — fueled by a crime hot spot in the Stevens Square neighborhood, which accounts for 72% of that precinct’s violent crime.
Much of the area’s problems stem from a large homeless population, which has grown in recent years amid the city’s growing affordable housing crisis, said Malcolm Williams, public safety manager at Plymouth Congregational Church.
“If we can put a roof over someone’s head, maybe these things can go away, give someone some hope, give someone some stability, so they’re not out here fighting for a dollar to drink the pain away,” he said.