Police are tracking the Uptown area’s repeat criminals to ease arrests and strengthen sentencing
Uptown outlaws beware: St. Nick isn’t the only one checking a list these days.
For the past five months, the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct has been tracking a group of the Uptown and Lyn-Lake area’s most chronic criminals using a list that provides quick access to booking photos, physical descriptions, conviction history and active warrants — information that previously had to be sourced from several different databases. The list is a more focused version of a larger, precinct-wide list of chronic offenders and so far, it has helped officers make arrests and led to harsher sentencing including banishment from the region.
Uptown’s day beat officer Butch Blauert and 5th Precinct community attorney Chris Dixon put the list together after Blauert and his fellow officers started continually running into the same people committing the same crimes in the same locations. Most of the offenses were livability crimes: urination in public, drinking in public, trespassing and possession of drug paraphernalia. Heroin use was a particularly common problem.
“It seems no matter how many times we arrested them and took them to jail, they always ended up back in Uptown, causing the same problems,” said officer Rob Illetschko, one of two officers who patrol Uptown at night.
Police initially identified 16 offenders for the list. It shrunk to 15 in October after one of them died of a heroin overdose. All of the offenders are men, ranging in age from 20 to 55. Their criminal histories include drug crimes, robbery, assault, theft and a variety of livability offenses.
Dixon manages the list, updates it regularly and distributes it to community members interested in knowing who the offenders are and what they’re doing in the area. Those community members are encouraged to write impact statements when arrests are made, which can lead to stronger sentencing.
Uptown Association Executive Director Maude Lovelle said she gets the list updates, has written community impact statements and has seen them work. One of the offenders on the list was responsible for burglarizing her organization’s office in October, she said.
“As an organization that works with all aspects of the community, I think it’s very helpful for us to know what is going on,” she said.
But even without impact statements, the list itself serves as a kind of scarlet letter for the criminals it includes, branding them as a nuisance to the community.
So far, four offenders have been geographically trespassed from an area bordered by Thomas Avenue to the west, 28th Street to the north, Colfax Avenue to the east and 32nd Street to the south, a penalty Judges don’t dish out lightly, Dixon said. The zone was created based on where crimes were occurring and offenders trespassed from it can be arrested for contempt of court by stepping within its borders.
A similar zone is in the works for the Lyn-Lake area, where some offenders on the list have moved to avoid police. Dixon and police said the stepped up enforcement has pushed offenders to different areas, but that’s not the only goal.
“The idea is not only to push them out of the way, but to give them specialized attention and jail time,” Dixon said.
As far as cleaning up Uptown proper, police said the list has made a huge impact. Offenders know the area’s officers well and they know they’re being tracked.
On a recent Thursday night, Illetschko and Lyn-Lake beat officer Scott Aikins rolled up on repeat offender Robert Maxie, who was sitting outside Hum’s Liquor Store near 22nd Street and Lyndale Avenue. He had no active warrants, but the officers decided to have a chat with him to see if he had a place to stay and what he’d been up to lately.
Maxie, who had problems with heroin use during the summer and had been convicted of loitering, public urination and trespassing, is geographically trespassed from Uptown. He told the officers he wouldn’t step foot there because of all his previous run-ins with police.
“If we see him here, we know we’ve done our jobs,” Illetschko said after the talk.
Officer Blauert said he’s seen and heard the same thing from his usual suspects during the day shift.
“I think the list has almost everything to do with it,” he said.
Dixon said the precinct doesn’t have the resources to develop and monitor lists for every node in Southwest affected by chronic livability crimes, but it is looking at using the tactic in other areas, including a larger chunk of the Lyndale neighborhood.