A man posing as a police officer is believed to have kidnapped and sexually assaulted a Minneapolis woman Saturday in Fridley before doing the same to a second woman hours later near the University of Minnesota, an Anoka County sheriff's official said Monday. Rarely do suspects in violent crimes impersonate police officers, say Minneapolis police and Anoka County authorities, who have been conferring over the cases.

The suspect in the Fridley rape, which occurred near City Hall at 1 p.m. Saturday, told the victim that he was a detective before kidnapping her, said Anoka County Sheriff's Commander Paul Sommer. Early Sunday morning, a man fitting a similar description and wearing a badge approached a woman near the U. In both cases, the suspect's small, dark-colored SUV was described as having a squad-like computer dashboard, Minneapolis police and Anoka County authorities said.

"There's a pattern here," said Sommer. "Basically, his modus operandi was the same. He approaches a victim, identifies himself as a police officer, kidnaps them, sexually assaults them and releases them."

He added, "I can't think of anything like this happening in Anoka County."

Such cases are "extremely rare," emphasized Cyndi Barrington, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis police.

Minneapolis police described the suspect as a black male, 23 to 27 years old, with short hair or a shaved head, and a neatly trimmed chin-strap-style beard. In the Fridley case, the suspect was described as a black male about 6 feet tall, 190 pounds, with a thin beard, wearing a dark cap, sweatshirt, sunglasses and bluejeans.

While the suspect in the Minneapolis incident never told the victim that he was a police officer, "it was implied that he was security-related," said Commander Bruce Folkens of the Minneapolis Special Crimes investigations division. Of the computer-screen console in the suspect's SUV, Folkens said, "It appears it may have been just the navigation system of a new vehicle."

The student had been walking alone about 2:15 a.m. near 8th Street and 15th Avenue SE. She told police that the suspect warned her against walking alone and offered her a ride, then drove to a remote location and sexually assaulted her.

In Fridley, authorities said a Minneapolis woman was walking alone to her vehicle Saturday afternoon when the suspect drove up and "identified himself as a police officer." She said he kidnapped and sexually assaulted her before releasing her.

University officials say they're continuing to encourage students to take precautions on and off campus.

"The basic message is … there are resources that students can use," said Amelious Whyte, assistant dean of students. That includes walking escorts and a free door-to-door van service called Gopher Chauffeur, which runs Thursday through Sunday night.

Folkens said the best thing to do, if stopped by someone who identifies himself as a police officer, is to call 911 to confirm his identity.

There's strength in numbers, Folkens said, urging students "to be aware of your surroundings."

"There's no indication that it was actually a police officer," he said. If someone is posing as a police officer to assault victims, he said, "Yeah, we're very concerned about that."

Minneapolis police ask that anyone with information call 612-692-TIPS or use its new app and texting service, MPD TIP 411. Anyone with information concerning the Fridley assault should call the Anoka County sheriff at 763-427-1212.

maura.lerner@startribune.com • 612-673-7384 paul.levy@startribune.com • 612-673-4419