In one case, three young people surrounded a Minneapolis man in August as he approached the door to his Uptown apartment. They sprayed him with Mace, took his wallet and keys and sped off in his vehicle.
In a similar July incident in Minneapolis, a dad was dragged when he tried to stop a man from stealing his vehicle with his wife and child inside. And in October, a 72-year-old woman was rushed by a couple of teens who snatched her purse, beat her to the ground, left, then returned to steal her car.
These frightening incidents are among the 76 carjackings or attempted carjackings that have occurred in Minneapolis in the past seven weeks, according to police. They're part of a rash of violent robberies in the Twin Cities and other metro areas this year. It's a trend that must be stopped to help restore feelings of safety for city workers, residents and visitors. Left unchecked, this is the type of crime that can drive people away from the city.
Police report that the robberies are often committed by small groups of juveniles who sometimes use the stolen vehicles to commit other crimes.
Since Sept. 22, just over a third of the carjackings in Minneapolis were committed in four areas: the Bancroft neighborhood; just south of Uptown; the central neighborhood west of Powderhorn Lake, and East Franklin Avenue between Elliot Avenue and South 28th Avenue. But they've happened all over the city, and St. Paul has not been immune.
As of Friday, Minneapolis Police Department spokesman John Elder reported that some of the perpetrators had been caught, but he could not say how many.
To address the problem, he said, MPD is increasing plainclothes street patrols, and the department's robbery and analysis units are investigating patterns of behavior by the perpetrators.
MPD is also sharing prevention information with community groups and other residents to help them avoid being victims. For example, they're advising against leaving keys in vehicles and leaving an idling car — even for a few minutes. They're advising heightened situational awareness, meaning that motorists should understand that the criminals are watching and looking for an opportunity to strike when a driver seems comfortable or distracted.
Police advise being aware of your surroundings, especially 50 feet around you. Watch out for suspicious behavior from individuals or groups in that zone. If you have reached your destination but something looks suspicious, don't stop or change direction.
"It truly shocks the conscience," Elder told an editorial writer. "You should be able to unload groceries out of your car or strap your child into a car seat without fear. ... It's heartbreaking for the victims — and for the juveniles involved. Some of them are 12 and 13 years old."
In addition to the carjacking problem, other types of violent crimes, including shootings and homicides, have also increased this year. Minneapolis had logged 73 homicides as of late last week.
As several groups of concerned citizens and downtown business groups have argued, the city needs community support for a law enforcement surge to bring rising criminal activity under control. There's also got to be a greater focus on what is causing mostly young people to commit crimes in the first place.