Police grapple with robbery spike

Southwest robbers rang in the New Year with a flurry of activity during the first week of January — and a different tactic.

From Jan. 1–7, 20 robberies were reported in the 5th Precinct. That’s more than double the weekly average of nine, said Minneapolis Police Department Insp.
Kristine Arneson, who oversees the area.

Arneson said many of the robberies, which occurred primarily in the Whittier and Lyndale neighborhoods, were done in the same way: a group of robbers in a vehicle would drive around, spot a target, commit the crime, then return to the vehicle and move on. Many of the incidents involved a weapon or threat of one and several of the victims were hurt.

This style of robbery isn’t brand new, Arneson said, but it’s been a growing trend lately.

"We’ve seen it consistently over the last three weeks, and it seems to be hitting its peak," she said a few days after the 20-robbery streak. Robbery numbers dropped to average the following week, but police were still focusing on the northeast section of the precinct to prevent another flare-up.

Arneson said she watches where the robberies take place every day and moves officers accordingly.

"We just throw everything we have in those areas," she said.

Seven individuals were arrested and charged for four of the early January robberies, Arneson said. Many different people are committing the crimes, and finding those participating in the rob-and-drive incidents can be challenging, she said. Vehicle descriptions are key.

"When you have four different people in the car, each of them can take a turn at robbing someone and you’ve got a different description each time," Arneson said. "So a description of the car with plate number becomes very handy."

Most of the robberies have taken place late at night or early in the morning. Robbers have been looking for cash primarily, Arneson said, but iPods have also become a popular item to steal and, to a lesser degree, cell phones have been taken.

Dick Goldman, a property manager who owns multiple residential buildings in the northeast portion of the 5th Precinct, said robberies were a big problem in 2007, but the situation seemed to be improving toward the end of the year. Keeping the crime at bay is important to Goldman, who said he’s heard firsthand accounts from tenants who were violently robbed on their way home.

"[Robbers] don’t just grab the purses, they beat the hell out of the people," he said.

Many of the people robbed in early January were injured by their attacker, according to police reports.

In one instance, suspects knocked a man to the ground "where he was punched and kicked numerous times." In another incident, a woman was pushed against a brick wall and then to the ground, where she was straddled. She went in and out of consciousness and woke up with her pants undone, a report states.

In one scenario with a more positive ending, a victim who had his backpack taken ran down a robber and knocked him to the ground with a gallon of milk, recovering the bag. But the suspect got away in a vehicle.

This year’s robbery spike came after a year of significant crime reduction throughout the precinct. At the end of 2007, burglary was the only crime that had increased when compared to 2006. During the last six weeks, the 5th Precinct was averaging four to five robberies a week.

Stifling robberies has been a longtime goal citywide and continues to be, Arneson said.

"Robbery reduction is the number one goal, not only in the whole city, but here and has been since I’ve been here and people know it," she said. "It’s our focus every single week."

Arneson offered these tips to prevent being robbed:

• Arrange a ride home after dark.

• If you’re walking, walk in well-lit areas; avoid walking alone.

• Don’t swing your purse; don’t carry a purse if possible.

• Have someone watch for you as you come home.

• Be aware of your surroundings; people listening to headsets make good targets.

• Call 911 if you see something suspicious.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.