After Minneapolis’ most recent deadly shooting — the third in two weeks — city officials have concerns about whether the police department has a specific plan for halting the shootings, particularly as the weather warms up. Several members of the City Council’s Public Safety committee said that if a wide-ranging strategy to curb the spread of gang violence exists, they haven’t seen it.
Last week, Mayor Betsy Hodges opened her State of the City speech by noting that she had ordered more officers to the downtown and north Minneapolis police precincts to deal with the problem.
“I hear you,” Hodges reassured crime-weary residents, “and your city hears you.”
Police spokesman Scott Seroka declined to answer specific questions about the department’s strategy in the coming months, instead saying that authorities had “released some violent crime reduction strategies recently.” He added that the department has plans to “progressively release several more initiatives in the coming days and weeks.”
Hennepin County Sheriff Rick Stanek said that more than a dozen of his deputies will again be assigned to so-called summertime JET patrols, a group of officers from the Minneapolis Police Department, Metro Transit police and State Patrol who flood crime hot spots to prevent further violence. But, Stanek added, his agency has also been kept in the dark about Minneapolis’ summer plan.
“We’re used to it,” he said.
Hodges on Tuesday declined to comment on the department’s anti-crime strategy, but a spokesman said that city officials have focused on providing more intervention programs for at-risk youth.
“As far as if we have a five-point plan or a blue ribbon plan that we’re going to announce, the focus is [instead] on adapting and being flexible, which is what we’re doing,” said the spokesman, David Prestwood.
No set strategy
The blame, some say, lies with the persistent poverty, unemployment and lack of recreational activities that have led some young people to embrace gang life. Community leaders say a lack of money has meant fewer after-school activities and programs aimed at providing vulnerable youth with a sense of belonging that can blunt the allure of gangs.
“There is not a set strategy right now about what we’re going to do,” said Sasha Cotton, the city’s youth violence prevention coordinator.
Among the programs being tried is a hospital violence intervention pilot for gunshot victims ages 10-24 at Hennepin County Medical Center. After being admitted, Cotton said, the victims are paired with social workers or “community navigators” to help them get the social and mental health services they need and to hopefully prevent retaliatory acts.
City officials are preparing to apply for a $500,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant to help continue funding existing community engagement efforts to prevent youth violence.
Police say most of the shootings are linked to an escalating gang war between the North Side’s “High-End” and “Low-End” gang factions — the “Highs,” made up of loosely knit street crews like Young N’ Thuggin’, Loud Pack and Taliban in the northern half of north Minneapolis, and the “Lows,” which include the Stick Up Boys, Skitz Squad, Hitsquad and Valley Boys, in the southern half. Much of the violence, they say, stems from the increasingly easy access to guns on the streets and young people’s willingness to use them in response to insults exchanged on social media and in online music videos.
“It is ridiculous,” said Council President Barbara Johnson, adding that she’d heard from constituents of her North Side ward complaining of having their houses shot up. “We’ve got neighborhoods being held hostage by these jerks.”
In roughly the first five months of the year, 123 people have been shot in Minneapolis — 97 of them on the North Side — compared with 65 during the same period last year. At the current pace, north Minneapolis will eclipse last year’s total of gunshot victims by late September. Aggravated assaults, which include shootings and are considered a key measure of a city’s safety, are up 14 percent across Minneapolis.
“In the end, I think the mayor’s going to need to put more money in her budget for more police officers,” Johnson said.
One of the city’s most disturbing recent episodes was a brazen shooting near Newton and 16th avenues N., where a group of Low End-affiliated gang members had gathered for a memorial for one of their friends who had been killed at that spot. Members of a rival gang sneaked up on the group and opened fire, hitting eight people. The wild scene was captured on video and widely shared on social media.
One of the victims, Roy Davis, died. Seven others, including three women and four men, were injured.
After another slaying the following week near Olson Memorial Hwy., a Skitz Squad gang leader issued a written plea for an end to the gang violence, lamenting on Facebook that “we [are] hurting moms and dads lil sisters/brothers and innocent people because of our actions … because of our actions I lost the 2 closest people to me.” The post has since been shared more than 1,000 times.
Police have assigned six homicide detectives to the two shootings, but no arrests have been made.
“My problem is them just throwing more cops at it. That’s not a plan,” said Lisa Clemons, a longtime North Side activist and former police sergeant. “The plan should be both proactive and reactive and should’ve been done before now.”
Council Member Cam Gordon, who is on the Public Safety committee, said that some of the blame rested with a three-decade-old state law that stripped cities of the power to regulate firearms and ammunition within their limits, except regulations targeting the “discharge of firearms.”
“I believe it is time for the Legislature to restore that authority and to give us more flexibility in determining how best to register and regulate handguns in Minneapolis,” Gordon wrote in a blog post addressing the problem.
Crime by block
Instead of focusing on major crime hot spots, sometimes as large as a neighborhood, police have started analyzing crime patterns on city blocks with a history of violence, and working with merchants and community leaders in those areas to tailor violence-fighting strategies to the specific conditions.
The department has started to focus its anti-crime efforts on the 386 street segments, 2.8 percent of the city’s blocks, that had 10 or more shootings between 1990 and 2014. Those blocks accounted for more than a third of all shootings in the city in that period, researchers say.
Residents at Little Earth, a public-housing project that abuts the street with the most shootings in that span, complain that police are often slow to respond. They blamed a recent spate of shootings on skirmishes between feuding gangs like Native Style, a onetime prison gang.
“It’s kind of hard to sit outside, to sit in your own yard, because people get to fighting all the time,” said one neighbor, Gwen, 41, who declined to give her last name out of fear of reprisal. “So I just stay inside with my kids.”