Rushing to address growing public frustration with violent crime, city and law enforcement officials Friday announced a new specialized unit to investigate such incidents, focusing on repeat offenders who they say account for a substantial amount of the violence.
The Violent Crime Investigations Team, which will be staffed by six veteran detectives, was unveiled at a City Hall news conference but went into operation last week, officials said. A special prosecutor from the Hennepin County attorney’s office will be assigned to the unit to help speed up prosecutions of violent offenders.
Flanked by Mayor Betsy Hodges, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and City Council President Barb Johnson, Police Chief Janeé Harteau told reporters that the unit will respond to and investigate all shootings, “regardless of whether the victim is cooperative or not,” while prosecuting those responsible.
“To address our violent-crime patterns even more comprehensively, we have reallocated some of our top investigators into a Violent Crime Investigations Team, who will be working closely with crime analysts to dig deeper into shooting incidents and gun-related crimes,” Harteau said. “We believe this team will increase effective prosecution and help reduce gun violence overall.”
The chief pointed to statistics showing that, as of October, the 526 people arrested in gun-related incidents this year have been arrested 6,271 times since 1990.
Investigators will focus most of their energies on such suspects, she said.
Less clear Friday was how the new unit’s mission would differ from that of previously unveiled investigative units looking at gangs and gun violence. Police say some overlap is inevitable, with the unit’s investigators working closely in certain cases with their counterparts, for example, on the gang squad.
Several previously scheduled news conferences to address the uptick in violence were called off after a spate of shootings elsewhere in the city forced officials to rethink what Harteau described as a “holistic” plan to reduce crime.
Yet City Hall sources say that some council members weren’t made aware of the unit’s existence until Friday’s announcement.
Officials acknowledged that in Minneapolis, as in many major U.S. cities, violent crime has climbed this year — up about 6 percent from this time in 2014 — while touting a citywide decline in the number of burglaries and other quality-of-life crimes.
“The fact that these increases come after years of historic lows doesn’t matter,” said Hodges, reading from a statement. She said that police were “doing solid work” in containing the violence.
While robberies are also down slightly, aggravated assaults, a good key of how safe a city is, rose to 1,816 from 1,608 at this time last year, a 13 percent increase. Such assaults spiked in three of the five police precincts, while remaining level in the Fourth Precinct in north Minneapolis and receding in parts of south Minneapolis.
In one of the latest incidents, a 28-year-old was shot early Thursday in the 5200 block of Humboldt Avenue N., becoming at least the 224th gunshot victim of the year.
Council Member Blong Yang, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, questioned how this new plan differs from past efforts to target crime hot spots across the city.
“We need to try as many things as we can to find the right solutions, so if this is one of the many solutions out there to try, I think we should,” Yang said by phone Friday. “And we’ll probably get it more wrong than right, but at least we want to try.”