The fatal shootings of a young man in north Minneapolis Wednesday night and a woman at a south Minneapolis bus stop late Tuesday were the latest episodes in a year in which violent crime in the city has reached levels not seen in nearly a decade.

The two slayings were the city’s 36th and 37th homicides of the year.

With the latest fatalities, Minneapolis is on pace to log its largest number of homicides since 2007, when 47 people were killed in the city.

Other violent crimes — rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults — also have risen.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said the recent crime surge mirrors a trend in other major U.S. cities, where homicides also have climbed.

“We’re still nowhere near the ‘Murderapolis’ days,” the chief said of 1995, when violence, gang turf wars and drive-by shootings resulted in a record 97 deaths.

Robberies are down 2 percent across the city, but aggravated assaults, which some experts say is the best indicator of how safe a city is, rose to 1,657 from 1,461 at this time last year. Such assaults spiked dramatically in downtown and in the northeast and southeast corners of the city, while remaining level on the North Side.

At the same time, police are solving fewer homicides this year, where the number of cases solved dipped nearly 13 percent from last year.

To address the new wave of crime, the Police Department recently announced new specialized units to focus on gang violence, gun-related crimes and cold cases.

Authorities frequently attribute violent crime’s increase — up 10 percent in two years — to the substantial rise in domestic assaults and flashes of social media-fueled violence, which often leads to waves of retaliatory shootings.

“When you look at homicides, they’re [happening] for a multitude of reasons: You have domestic-related homicides, you have gang-related homicides, you have disrespect-on-Facebook homicides,” Harteau said Wednesday in a phone interview.

The chief was in Washington, D.C., presenting at a meeting of the Women’s Coalition for Common Sense, a new gun-control initiative headed by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Gun violence, Harteau said, is the “common denominator” in crimes against women, who are 11 times more likely than men to be killed by guns.

“Let’s face it, women aren’t out in the streets resolving conflicts with guns; men are the ones resolving conflicts with guns,” said Harteau.

Bus stop killing

On Tuesday night, an argument at a Metro Transit bus stop between the suspect and the victim exploded into gunfire and left Jessica Denise St. Marie, 28, lying on the asphalt bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head, police and witnesses said.

St. Marie, who family members say was homeless, was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center. Authorities said the gunman shot St. Marie at close range and then fled on foot, apparently down a narrow alley across the street from the bus stop.

In north Minneapolis, a man identified by family members as Elija Larkin, 19, got off a Metro Transit bus near 30th and Emerson avenues N. about 6:30 p.m., got in a fight with another man and was shot multiple times as he sought shelter in a nearby church.

The two shootings brought the number of gunshot victims in the city this year to 208, outpacing year-to-date totals in 2014 (192) and 2013 (174). More than half were shot in north Minneapolis.

More cops

The recent surge of violence has intensified calls for hiring additional cops to patrol the streets.

The Police Department, which is expected to be hit hard over the next few years by retirements, has a force of about 800 officers, although two classes of rookie cops are expected to hit the streets by the end of the year, bringing the department closer to its authorized strength of 860.

Meanwhile, the department earlier this year embarked on a federally funded pilot program aimed at targeting domestic violence, which makes up the majority of emergency calls in crime hot spots.

Doing so, police believe, will ward off other crimes in those areas.

“Attacking the issue of domestic violence is going to have a positive impact on the issue of violent crime,” police Cmdr. Bruce Folkens said Wednesday at a City Council committee meeting.

 

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