Violent crime in Minneapolis nudged up slightly in 2016, driven in large part by a wave of gang-on-gang bloodshed sweeping parts of the city, court filings and recently released police statistics show.
An official tally showed 4,605 violent crime incidents — defined as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — reported across the city from the beginning of the year through Dec. 28, the last date for which citywide statistics were available. It was a 4.3 percent increase over 2015, which saw 4,417 such incidents.
The city recorded 2,274 aggravated assaults — a crime category that includes shootings and is considered a key measure of how safe a city is — up from 2,051 the previous year. The number of homicides fell from 50 to 37 during the same period. Robberies also declined, but rapes and sexual assaults jumped more than 6 percent.
Meanwhile, arrests are down for every crime category except automobile thefts. Police made 8,963 fewer arrests in 2016 for crimes from homicide to arson, despite the rise in overall crime.
Observers speculate that the decline was caused by everything from the department's embrace of a community policing model that emphasized public relations over cracking down to an apparent monthslong work slowdown in response to intense public criticism after the November 2015 shooting death of Jamar Clark during a struggle with two officers.
Police statistics show that of 340 people shot in Minneapolis through last week, 215 were on the city's North Side. In 2015, there were 260 shooting victims citywide.
Despite the rise in shootings, Chief Janeé Harteau said serious assaults had waned in recent months.
"Crime prevention initiatives and the efforts of our officers helped dramatically reduce the number of homicide, robbery and burglary victims in the city," Harteau said Wednesday in a statement. "I'm also particularly proud to note that even though aggravated assaults are up year to year, that increase is much lower than anticipated after looking at our midyear numbers and national trends."
Department officials say that, as in past years, a relatively small group of offenders is responsible for the majority of the bloodshed, much of which stems from a gang war in parts of north Minneapolis that has left residents feeling besieged.
The continued violence exacted a heavy toll on certain neighborhoods.
Police officials said earlier this year that at least half the city's homicides were thought to be gang-related.
To prevent a further escalation of violence, authorities last fall announced an anti-gang plan with a special emphasis on community involvement that they insisted would fight crime and give gang members a chance at a better life. The so-called Group Violence Intervention program, or GVI, is expected to be launched this spring. Recent gang crackdowns have resulted in dozens of arrests and taken some of the most violent offenders off the streets, police say. Last month, the City Council approved a $1.3 billion budget that calls for the hiring of 15 new police officers in 2017, bringing the department's authorized strength to 877.
According to police data, the neighborhoods with the highest violent crime rates in 2016 were: Downtown West (71.1 per 1,000 people), Hawthorne (40.3), East Phillips (30.2), Jordan (29.8), Folwell (29).
Police declined to say what factors contributed to the crime rise, but several high-profile slayings, including those of Birdell Beeks, a grandmother caught in gang crossfire as she drove her teenage granddaughter home from an appointment, and of 2-year-old Le'Vonte King Jason Jones, remain unsolved, despite hefty rewards for tips leading to the arrests of the shooters.
The figures published on the police department's website on a weekly basis show that violent crime jumped in neighborhoods rarely visited by crime. For example, in East Isles, a posh neighborhood that hugs the east side of Lake of the Isles, there were 24 violent crimes reported in 2016, up from eight the previous year. Morris Park and Regina also saw uncharacteristic crime leaps this year.
At the same time, property crimes like theft and arson edged up by less than a percentage point, to 17,478 from 17,335 the year before, the data shows. This mirrors a general decline in crime citywide.
So-called Part I crimes, which include both violent and property offenses, increased by less than 2 percent to 22,083 incidents in 2016, compared to the same period the year before, department statistics show. Of the city's five police precincts, three registered increases in total crime. Officials cautioned that it was too soon to tell whether the increases are part of a long-term trend or a statistical aberration.
Any hopes that the new year would bring relief from the bloodshed were dashed with the shooting of four people in the first 48 hours of 2017.
In one instance, around midday on New Year's Day, police say a man shot his cousin twice in the leg during an argument over whether the suspected shooter would be allowed to continue parking his vehicles on the victim's front lawn. Witnesses told police that the suspect had stopped taking prescribed medication and had been acting erratically, according to court filings.
A warrant was issued earlier this week for his arrest.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter:@StribJany