Observations from a ride-along with the 5th Precinct’s Community Response Team
WHITTIER – Minneapolis Police Officer Brian Anderson calmly maneuvered a lumbering old unmarked Chevy Caprice down Pleasant Avenue, his head panning left and right.
It was shortly after 8 p.m. on a Friday. Gunshots were reported in front of a nearby restaurant, and Anderson was among about a half dozen officers hunting for two suspects.
Anderson poked the Chevy’s nose into an alley near Whittier International Elementary School. A man in a puffy white coat was running down the alley toward the car, the hood on his jacket bobbing up and down, his hand steadying a gun near his waistband.
Anderson flipped on the red and blue lights and was out of the car in an instant, his gun drawn.
“Get on the ground!” he shouted. “Get on the ground now!”
The man dropped to his belly. A shiny, silver Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver rested next to him in the snow.
Other officers from the 5th Precinct’s night Community Response Team (CRT) were on the scene in seconds. The team of about six, led by Sgt. Holly Keegel, is a crime-trend-tracking group that works with Insp. Kris Arneson and the precinct’s sector lieutenants to research the most recurring crimes and the people behind them. CRT members then patrol selected areas – some in plain clothes, others in full police gear – and stop the bad guys.
The team wasn’t tracking the man with the gun, which turned out to be stolen from Columbia Heights, Minn. But the CRT also takes on whatever might come up during the 6 p.m.-4 a.m. shift it works four days a week.
“There’s always something for us to do,” Keegel said.
The team’s focus during much of the last year was halting an increase in robberies. During January of 2006, reported robberies in the 5th Precinct jumped nearly 30 percent over 2005 reports, according to the Minneapolis Police Department’s uniform crime statistics. The number of robberies in February 2006 was more than double the previous year.
Police continued to fight an increase in robberies into the summer months and reports of the crime declined throughout the remainder of the year. At the end of 2006, the precinct was just four robberies over 2005, Arneson said. So far in 2007, robberies are down 39 percent over last year at the end of January.
The CRT deserves much of the credit, Arneson said.
“This is what they focus on night after night,” she said.
On a night in early January, the CRT caught two brothers who had committed numerous robberies near the Uptown Pizza Lucé. The team researched the area for weeks and saturated it with marked and unmarked police vehicles before a tip from a victim led officers to a house to which the brothers usually fled. An arrest was made at the home and robberies in the area have stopped, Anderson said.
Robbery trends are often the result of groups of two or three individuals, and identifying and locating a group of robbers can be a difficult task, he said. Catching a robber in the act is rare, he said, and it usually takes several crimes to locate perpetrators.
“Robberies are one of those crimes that are extremely hard to follow and pinpoint,” Anderson said. “We wait until we see a pattern. When we start seeing a pattern, that’s when we move into an area.”
Because robbery is a crime of opportunity, the times and locations robbers choose can vary.
Though robberies have been a priority, the CRT also combats other crime trends. If nuisance crimes such as loitering and prostitution are on the rise, for instance, the team might make that a focus for a couple weeks. Depending on what the trend is, the team might make anywhere from zero to 100 arrests in a week, Anderson said.
Arneson said most crimes are woven together, and stopping one will often prevent another.
Anderson said the arrest of the man with the revolver was an example of that. The guy in the puffy coat was a 19-year old member of an area gang.
“It’s just another piece of the puzzle,” Anderson said.
Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected].