Crime rebounds in parts of Southwest

Concentrated in Whittier and Stevens Square, the SW crime rate up 9 percent this year, but still one-third less than 1997

Miles Petree has been mugged twice this summer, his son once. The Whittier resident fears that police budget cuts are turning Minneapolis into a crime-ridden town where the lives of local residents are endangered. He’s outraged that no one in city government seems to be addressing the issue.

"I live in a neighborhood where the crime rate is skyrocketing," Petree said. "It’s impossible to walk out of my alley without being hassled. I can’t even walk by SuperAmerica because there are so many drunks hanging around there."

Dee Veldt called the streets of the Stevens Square neighborhood a lot dicier this year than last, with more prostitutes and drug dealers on the street. "Some of that activity is coming from the [city’s] north side," Veldt said. "There are more guns there. Many drug dealers and prostitutes feel safer doing their illegal activity in this part of town."

Crime is often a matter of perception. For someone victimized by it, the fear it

provokes can make everything else small in comparison. But many Southwest residents attest to no perceptible difference in the city’s crime rate. Still, crime reports in categories such as burglary, robbery and auto theft are up more than 14 percent in the 5th Precinct, which includes all of Southwest except northern Bryn Mawr.

In total, 5th Precinct crime is up about 9 percent from Jan. 1 to July 21, police statistics show. Overall, Southwest has fewer calls for police service than the north side’s 4th Precinct and the 3rd Precinct in Southeast Minneapolis. But Southwest has more calls than Downtown’s 1st Precinct and the 2nd Precinct, which is Northeast and the University of Minnesota area.

According to 5th Precinct Sgt. Barry Nelson, Minneapolis crime increases during the summer months by about 25 to 30 percent compared to the cold months when burglaries, robberies and crimes of opportunity decrease. The busiest time of the day for crime is between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Nelson estimates that 70 percent of the 5th Precinct’s crimes are perpetrated in Stevens Square and Whittier, whose combined borders extend from I-94 south to Lake Street and from Lyndale Avenue east to I-35W.

Police say most of the 39 additional 2003 robberies were specifically attributed to male teenagers riding bikes and brandishing guns. They’d come upon individuals suddenly, rob them and then ride off, often where police cars could not follow. Police call such criminals "frequent flyers," a euphemism for individuals who are continuously out on the street and continuously committing crimes whether they are charged or not.

Two minors connected to the bicycle robberies were recently arrested at 36th Street and Nicollet Avenue. One was 15 years old and the other a 16-year-old. Police believe the two are responsible for between 15 to 20 5th and 3rd Precinct robberies in the last few months. A witness has positively identified them.

"Usually there is a small group doing all the action," said Nelson. "I’d say those two … have done a lot of it. They have past histories of this kind of crime. It only takes a few people on a crime spree to make the numbers go way up. But I think we may have put a dent in that category."

According to Dave Delvoye, the Stevens Square Neighborhood Organization’s safety coordinator for the past three years, crime is a huge issue in his neighborhood because it affects people who live there, as well as business viability at Nicollet Avenue and Franklin.

Over two dozen members walk the neighborhood in two-hour shifts and report anything suspicious. This summer, because of increased crime, they’ve increased the number of weekly shifts and their length.

"Our program has been successful," said Delvoye. "It allows local residents to get involved in their community in a proactive way by talking to people in the neighborhood and finding out what’s going on."

He added, "My sense is that there is a shortage of officers on the street responding to 911 calls. The pressure is to take cops from special crime-prevention units and put them into answering 911 calls. The response times are a problem, but sometimes they are incredibly fast. It depends on how much is going on at once."

Nelson said the police department’s CCP/SAFE crime prevention unit was cut in half this year, with those officers assigned to 911 response.

Some in Stevens Square and Whittier believe a police practice called "saturation" is chasing perpetrators into Southwest. The practice — when 30-40 cops and probation officers converge on specific high-crime areas to chase away prostitutes, street drug dealers and others engaged in criminal activity is used in other city precincts.

Ironically, during these saturation exercises, it is not the police the criminal element fears as much as the probation officers who accompanying them, neighborhood activists say. More than police, probation officers know many of the people on the street who are drinking or using drugs, and who may be violating their probation conditions. Probation officers have the power to send them back to jail.

Even with the recent rise, crime is down 37 percent in Minneapolis since 1997. Nelson attributed the drop to the economy that did well before the recession and to a program called CODEFOR that is based upon a New York City model. It holds local commanders responsible for crime in their precincts and has a computer system that analyzes crime on a weekly basis and shares information among the police citywide.

Despite budget cuts, police administrators have put their reduced resources into answering 911 calls and, Nelson said, that number has not changed much from last year. Cuts have affected the manpower and emphasis placed on crime investigations affecting property, but not people. Nelson said that though the statistics have increased, crime often runs in streaks and may actually go down by the end of the year.

Petree said he was heartened to hear that the two minors on bikes were arrested. Though his son was not able to identify the perpetrators, they may have been the ones who mugged him.

"I feel a little safer now," said Petree. "The police presence has returned to the neighborhood — which is good because the criminals have scared residents here half to death."