Violent crime in Southwest dropped in 2012

Stevens Square, Whittier neighborhoods saw most significant decreases in violent crime

New 5th Precinct Insp. Tony Diaz. Credit: By Michelle Bruch

The year-end crime picture in Southwest’s 5th Precinct shows violent crime down nearly 18 percent, with a larger 30-50 percent reduction in targeted “hot spots” in the Stevens Square and Whittier neighborhoods.

“It’s really trending down,” said Insp. Tony Diaz. “Chronic offenders have decided they’re not coming back, or they’re going other places, or they’re going to jail.”

Property crime was up 5 percent last year, however, and it has increased by 15 percent over the last two years. Assistant Chief Matt Clark, who served as 5th Precinct Inspector throughout 2012, said he thinks more crime victims reported more incidents due to the ease of filing online police reports and calling 311. But police also saw spates of business-related thefts, bike thefts and burglaries. Increasing numbers of juveniles and the unemployed are burglarizing cars and homes, with many of those arrested living outside Southwest. One week alone generated a streak of 61 burglaries in Southwest.

The numbers might have been higher, but midway through summer, police broke up a network that used juveniles and others to steal items — primarily bikes — from garages.

“We were seeing large garage burglary numbers until that event,” Clark said.

Triggered  by unusually high numbers of heroin overdoses, police also worked on an undercover operation with the Drug Enforcement Administration to make significant narcotics purchases from a group selling heroin to South and Southwest Minneapolis.

“We saw a spike in heroin overdoses,” Clark said. “It was across the board in the types of victims, from high school and college students to older adults. … We know we had a significant impact on heroin dealing and overdoses. This was larger than just Southwest Minneapolis.”

As part of the investigation, police used a tip from a citizen who noticed suspicious people in the neighborhood.

“Neighbors know whether a car belongs to the block or not,” Clark said.

Another major operation this year took place at Champions at Lake & Blaisdell. Police documented more than seven drug deals that occurred at the bar, the parking lot, or the patio between September 2011 and January 2012. Following the sting operation, city officials took steps that could lead to the bar’s closure. Champions has filed a lawsuit in response, alleging defamation and malicious prosecution, among other things.

Juveniles were another major focus for the precinct, and curfew arrests were up 62 percent.

“One of the specific roles we had for 5th Precinct officers was we wanted to see them proactively looking for curfew and truancy violators,” Clark said.

To promote curfew arrests, Clark appealed to officers on a personal level — curfew arrests not only might prevent a crime, but could prevent youth from becoming a victim of a crime. Officers have the discretion to either drop kids at home or bring them to the Curfew/Truancy Center. At the center, staff talk to youth about the danger of being out at night, determine whether they are in danger at home, and find out why they are violating curfew. If staff determine the youth or their parents need help, they can immediately refer them to the appropriate agencies.

Clark said the curfew push was not about racking up arrests.

“It’s more about what’s best for the kid,” he said.

The 2012 drop in violent crime returns the 5th Precinct to a long-running trend of falling Part I crime, which is a measure of incidents that include homicide, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault and motor vehicle theft. Part I crime dropped 23 percent from 2000 to 2010, but increased by nearly 10 percent in 2011. Clark said the 2011 increase was drivenby a rise in aggravated domestic assault that year. Crime stats also show 2011 increases in burglary, larceny and robbery.

To push crime down in targeted “hot spot” areas, police met with businesses, apartment complexes and community members to collaborate on the summertime strategy in 2011 and 2012.

“Anything we could be doing, we wanted to hear from the public about,” Clark said.

Police learned about areas or bus stops of particular concern and laid out their manpower on the problem sites, sending uniformed officers to blanket the area during high-crime hours of the day. 

“We really tried to hit it hard,” Diaz said. “We have a low tolerance for low-level, street-level crimes.”

Clark noted that twice a year, beat officers check with every business on Nicollet about their major concerns. In 2011, their concern was graffiti. In 2012, the biggest complaint was parking. Clark said he is happy that public safety is not the paramount issue along the street today.

“That’s a good sign,” he said.


Meet Inspector Diaz  

The 5th Precinct’s new Inspector, Tony Diaz, has a 31-year history in the police department, and he previously spent two eventful years leading the Community Response Team.

His team nabbed 35-40 street narcotics dealers over the past year-and-a-half — some of them had 50 or 60 criminal incidents in their history, and others were previously convicted felons.

Born and raised in South Minneapolis, Diaz started at the Bryant Station in Southwest at age 20. He has worked a long list of jobs in the police department. He worked in the Robbery Decoy Unit, conducting undercover street operations in high crime areas. He was in charge of Downtown’s mounted patrol. He worked the bar-close shift in the Warehouse District, uniform patrol in Northeast, criminal investigations, the violent criminal apprehension team, and the Community Crime Prevention/SAFE unit.

“I’ve been on the street 23 years out of 31,” he said.

Diaz said he enjoyed every job — even 10 years on the street in North Minneapolis during the mid-90s, when Minneapolis was seeing close to 100 murders a year. (Minneapolis recorded 42 murders this year.) Diaz said he liked working closely with the other officers in North Minneapolis, and he thought it was rewarding to help people in a tough socio-economic pocket of the city.

“I’m a firm believer that you make the job what it is,” Diaz said. “How you approach it and how you work it either brings you satisfaction, or you’re complaining all the time. This job can tend to make you negative. I enjoy it and I stay positive with it.”

Diaz said his attitude stems from the way he was raised. And throughout his time in the department, Diaz has remained a family man. He is a single parent, and when his kids were young, he volunteered to work the nighttime “dog watch” so he could maximize the time with his family.

In his new position, Diaz said he looks forward to working with his officers, particularly the night shift, who have been on the beat more than four years now.

“We have an incredible group of officers that are coming into their own,” Diaz said. “They are getting very good at what they do.”

Diaz said the precinct will continue to closely target hot spots for crime, which primarily lie north and south of Lake Street, as well as the Franklin & Nicollet corridor. Police will look for emerging crime patterns and then saturate the area with beat officers, working with businesses to spread the word about locking up valuables. Thieves often walk down a line of cars and will only attempt to break in if they see a bag or an opportunity to steal, Diaz said.

“If they don’t see anything, they won’t,” he said.

He urged citizens to call 911 to report suspicious behavior.

“It often allows us to catch the burglars,” he said.

Former 5th Precinct Inspector Matt Clark, now the Assistant Chief, said he knows that Diaz will be proactive about addressing community concerns.

“I have a lot of faith in him,”  Clark said. “I know he is community-oriented.”