Serious crime on decline “in Southwest and city

Continuing a trend that began in the late 1990s, the decade that ended Dec. 31 saw a remarkable decrease in the number of serious crimes in Southwest and throughout Minneapolis.

Part I crimes — including homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson — dropped 23 percent from 2001 through last year in Minneapolis’s 5th Police Precinct, which includes most of Southwest.

When the timeframe is broadened to 1999, the 5th Precinct decline in Part I crimes is an even more dramatic 32 percent.

The trend in Southwest conforms to a citywide drop in serious crime. Last decade, Part I crime decreased 17 percent throughout Minneapolis. The citywide decrease jumps to 28 percent when the timeframe is extended back to 1999.

Why a decrease?

Rob Allen, Deputy Chief in charge of investigations for the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), has presided over the MPD’s weekly Code 4 meetings since they first began back in 1998.

After a dramatic spike in violent crime in the mid-1990s that coincided with the New York Times dubbing the city “Murderapolis,” the MPD began searching for ways to get Part I crimes under control.

Code 4 was a product of that search, and Allen contends it’s no coincidence Part I crimes have fallen steadily since those meetings began.

Code 4 includes officers from across the city’s five police precincts. Police process crime data from the previous week much like financial analysts process the rising and falling of stock prices — in other words, the data is mined for trends, and identifiable patterns are then used to try and predict when the next crime may occur.

“It may seem crazy that this isn’t how we used to do stuff, but a very dramatic shift in policing occurred in the ’90s,” Allen said.

Matt Clark, the new 5th Precinct Inspector for the MPD, said, “Code 4 has been a big cause for the reduction in crime,” and added the MPD was in dialogue with the National Institute of Justice about how best to hone predictive analytic techniques in hopes of further reductions moving forward.

As an example of how predictive analytics works, Allen cited the police response to a string of armed robberies that took place throughout Southwest early this year.

In January, there were over twice as many armed robberies in Southwest compared to the same month one year ago. At a Code 4 meeting toward the end of this January, the MPD compiled information about the times, locations and methods of previous robberies and what they knew about possible suspects. Using that data, police predicted that the next robbery was likely to happen somewhere near the north end of Lake Calhoun, and the police presence in that area was increased in hopes officers would be in a position to respond quickly if the prediction proved to be correct.

In fact, the MPD’s prediction was close, but a tad off — the next robbery occurred just beyond the Minneapolis border at a self-service laundry in St. Louis Park — yet a number of arrests in connection with the robberies were made shortly thereafter. Halfway into March, there had been only one more robbery in the 5th Precinct than at the same time last year, indicating the robbery problem was brought under control.

As Allen and Clark acknowledge, many factors besides Code 4 account for the significant decrease in violent crime observed in Southwest and throughout Minneapolis, and not all of them have to do with improved policing. But given the striking correlation between the inauguration of Code 4 and the precipitous drop in Part I crime, it stands to reason that the MPD’s emphasis on proactive policing is a significant reason the number of violent crimes committed in Minneapolis last year was less than in any year since 1984.

Part II crimes also down

Less serious Part II crimes — including narcotics and weapons offenses, prostitution, DWI and vandalism, among others — also decreased last decade, dropping nearly 40 percent in the 5th Precinct between 2001 and 2009. (The precinct-by-precinct Part II numbers for last year have not yet been compiled.)

Citywide, Part II crimes declined 27 percent from 2001 through last year.

But Deputy Chief Allen cautioned against drawing conclusions from the Part II data.

“Part I crimes are a far better measure of what’s going on than Part II,” he said. “What Part II shows is the degree to which you’re enforcing certain things, like narcotics and prostitution.”

Nonetheless, the MPD combats Part II crimes with the same analytic techniques applied to more serious crimes.

Inspector Clark pointed out “the minor crimes can lead to major ones. When you don’t address some of the livability issues they can build into larger issues. A minor assault or string of them may lead to a stabbing or shooting.”

Has serious crime in Minneapolis reached bedrock?

There hasn’t been a year-to-year increase in Part I crimes in the 5th Precinct since 2004–2005. Citywide, a line graph depicting the annual number of violent crimes over the past five years looks like a steep rollercoaster drop.

But of course, Minneapolis is a large city, crime is a part of the human condition, and it’s inevitable that at some point, if serious crime continues to decrease, a bedrock level will be reached.

Are we now at that level?

When posed with this question, both Deputy Chief Allen and Inspector Clark said that they believe further decreases, both citywide and in Southwest, are possible.

“We haven’t found bedrock yet, but we keep digging,” 
Allen said.

Clark concurred.

“We’re hoping we just never get there,” he said. “The goal is continued improvement through self-analysis.”