Hours after a pair of overnight shootings Monday in Minneapolis' Warehouse District left six people wounded, fed-up city and police officials unveiled new anti-crime programs aimed at cooling some notorious hot spots — among them just outside the First Precinct police station doors in the heart of downtown.
Authorities said the shootings appeared to be tied to an escalating gang war.
"This morning's shootings in downtown Minneapolis are unacceptable. This is not who we are as a city," said Mayor Betsy Hodges in announcing the new efforts, which include an intervention program that focuses on the relatively small percentage of chronic offenders who commit the bulk of violent crimes. "Gun violence anywhere in this city is unacceptable — it's unacceptable on the North Side and it is unacceptable downtown."
Hodges said the approach "will call in the offenders who are at the highest risk of perpetrating violence" and "offer them every resource they need to redirect their lives productively, and hold them accountable if they do not."
She said the program, which had proved successful in other cities, would be funded in part by a $250,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant, in addition to money set aside in next year's budget.
Hodges offered few other details about the new program, promising periodic updates through the fall. She added that, if passed, her 2017 budget would increase the department's authorized strength by 15 officers next year.
Faces are often familiar
She was joined at a midday news conference by Police Chief Janeé Harteau, who said that her officers had noticed an ominous trend: the same faces over and over again at shooting scenes.
"I get shocked when we have a victim or a suspect of a shooting who doesn't have a criminal history," she said.
The five adults wounded in Monday's shootings had 110 police contacts between them, Harteau said, on suspicion of crimes ranging from assault to robbery. The sixth person wounded was a juvenile.
One of the victims of the second shooting, a 22-year-old Brooklyn Park man, had been shot on July 3 when gunfire broke out at a parking lot gathering off W. Broadway Boulevard in north Minneapolis.
Shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday, a call went out over emergency frequencies alerting downtown police officers about a large group of North Side gang members who were walking in the area of the First Precinct police station on Fourth Street, according to scanner traffic. Moments later, shots rang out.
Officers responded and found a man shot in the leg and hand. He was taken by ambulance to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC). His injuries were not critical, according to police spokeswoman Sgt. Catherine Michal. A second victim hit in the leg made his own way to HCMC and was being treated for noncritical injuries, Michal said.
Neither of the victims was cooperating with police, the spokeswoman said.
About 15 minutes later, officers responded to a shooting between rival crews near the Central Library branch at 4th Street and Hennepin Avenue. Four people were wounded in that episode, with three of the victims being treated for noncritical injuries. The fourth, a man, was shot in the chest and was in stable condition Monday morning, Michal said.
Police arrested one suspect who tried to flee through a trash-strewn alley next to the police station. The man, 19, of Brooklyn Center, was later booked in county jail on suspicion of carrying a gun without a permit, police said. No other arrests were announced.
The victims were all males, ranging in age from 16 to 25.
A resident of a nearby apartment tower said that he was lying down for the night when he heard about five gunshots in rapid succession, followed almost immediately by the sound of people shouting. He didn't bother to get out of bed.
Asked why, the man, who declined to be identified, responded simply: "There are always shootings out there."
Residents say that the area near the precinct station has in recent months been a magnet for violence.
In September alone, the precinct's block witnessed four serious assaults, which include shootings.
On Sept. 5, a man and a woman were injured in a shooting nearby, near the corner of 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue, police said.
Routinely after shootings, police have ordered extra patrols to ward off retaliatory violence, but some residents and merchants say that those efforts seem to have a short-term effect, at best.
Statistics tell the story
Statistics through last Monday back up residents' insistence that crime is worse than it has been in some time.
On the city's North Side, for instance, 178 people had been shot, a 42 percent increase over the same period in 2015, while other violent crimes such as rape and aggravated assault have also risen. Only robberies have dropped, police records show.
In the First Precinct, which covers the downtown area, however, there has been a marked decrease in the number of gunshot victims, from 32 through the first roughly 10 months of last year to 24 in 2016. That tally doesn't include Monday's shooting.
Violent crime in downtown is down 8 percent compared to this time last year, police data show, but still up from 2014 levels.
Toby Brill isn't buying any of it.
Brill, who runs an Army surplus store across the street from the police station, showed up to work Monday as she does on most mornings. She didn't even spot the two bullet holes in the large display window until a reporter pointed them out to her.
Brill says that local business owners have for years pleaded with police to "get out of your cars once in a while and shine a flashlight into the alley," to no avail.
She said that city and law enforcement officials also have ignored her suggestions for solutions to the crime problem: more lighting along Fourth Street, staggering the closing times for area bars, "yanking" the liquor licenses of bars that are known to be jumpoff points for violence.
The most recent shooting persuaded Brill to finally have reinforced glass installed at her shop.
"I haven't had time to look for the slugs yet," she said. "They'll turn up sooner or later."