City police tout 58 percent crime drop in six years; 36 percent decline in Southwest

The Police Department recently released data outlining the effectiveness of the department's CODEFOR Unit, created six years ago to address problem crime areas.

The crime statistics showed a decrease in crime since CODEFOR's inception, highlighted by a 58 percent drop in reported crime overall.

The Department compared stats from a week in 1998 to one in 2004, which showed a citywide drop of 367 crimes. The most drastic drops were in burglaries, down 53 percent, robberies, down 56 percent and auto thefts, down 52 percent. In Southwest's 5th Precinct, there's been a 36 percent drop in crime from 1998 to 2003, according to CODEFOR data.

CODEFOR stands for Computer Optimized DEployment -- Focus On Results. The unit analyzes crime data and develops crime-reduction strategies, with weekly precinct meetings and occasional public meetings.

While crime has been cut, so has CODEFOR -- from the original nine employees down to four current staffers, due to budget reductions and technological improvements, Department officials say.

Acting 5th Precinct Commander Captian Susan Piontek said CODEFOR has greatly helped policing. Citing weekly CODEFOR meetings wherein Department upper management must answer for their area's crime trends, Piontek said, "It's made precincts more accountable."

CODEFOR Unit Leader Lt. Greg Reinhardt said his group's work has been essential for the Department to take a proactive approach to policing, rather than just responding to calls. He said they've found that by targeting minor criminal activity, such as low-level drug crime, they can catch more serious criminals, such as thieves. "Thieves don't specialize in one crime," he said.

While Reinhardt said their CODEFOR stats are impressive, he acknowledged it is difficult to determine what specific actions are responsible for the crime drop. Sometimes, he said crime rates fall and they don't know why, and other times, it's due to non-CODEFOR policing efforts.

In addition, Reinhardt noted that 50 to 70 percent of crimes go unreported, so the CODEFOR numbers can only measure trends in the other 30 to 50 percent of criminal activity.

Tom Johnson, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Council on Crime and Justice, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, agreed that careful interpretation of crime statistics is needed.

He said CODEFOR's six-year period is long enough to adequately monitor results of policing efforts, but other factors must be considered when analyzing the data. For example, crime statistics can appear misleading when considering whether police arrests were productive or not.

"There's a difference between arrests and convictions," Johnson said, adding that if conviction rates were considered with these crime statistics, it would provide a fairer picture of the change.

Johnson also said that CODEFOR tactics that generate positive numbers must also be analyzed. His group produced a groundbreaking racial profiling study last year, indicating that Minneapolis police stop blacks, Latinos and American Indians at higher rates than whites but found contraband at a lower rate.

Johnson said the relationship between CODEFOR practices and racially biased policing should be further researched.

Reinhardt said CODEFOR's goal is to address such problems to see what the Department can do better to reduce crime using various techniques. "We're not trying to target or profile," Reinhardt said. "Tactics and techniques sometimes don't work, but the idea is firm, while approaches change."

However, Reinhardt said the drop in reported crime isn't CODEFOR's most important achievement. "The biggest thing CODEFOR has brought to Minneapolis is the sharing of information," he said.

He said the unit has worked tirelessly on mapping and communications within the Department to plot problem areas, allowing quicker responses to problems. Also, the data improves communication with the public because CODEFOR crime maps are available on the department's Web site (though they are typically a couple of weeks old). Reinhardt said the Department is working to make some crime data more accessible.

For more information, visit the Department's CODEFOR Web site at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/police/about/codefor.asp