Despite the arrest of several career criminals in Southwest Minneapolis, burglaries, robberies and violent crime increased in the 5th Precinct in 2013.
Burglaries were up 7 percent, according to Uniform Crime Reports, and police said violent crime was up 12 percent at year-end. Overall, however, Part I crime (a measure of serious incidents) remains 9 percent below levels of a decade ago. **
“Unfortunately we’re up a little bit, but we’re not down and out,” said Insp. Tony Diaz, who is retiring this month. “Officers have worked extremely hard, each week coming in first or second in proactive work for the city.”
There were eight homicides in Southwest Minneapolis last year, a large number compared to the two or three recorded each year since 2008. Diaz said there is no link or pattern between any of the 2013 incidents, and the circumstances of each case varied widely.
One of the victims was Fuad Ali, a local Somali-American property owner. Police discovered Ali lying in the street with a gunshot wound Dec. 11 at the 2600 block of Pleasant Avenue, according to the Star Tribune.
Diaz said no motive or suspect is identified yet.
“They’re not ruling out any type of motive,” he said, mentioning robbery as a possibility. “Investigators are still in the process of going over video surveillance in the area, and following up on the weapon used.”
Police were relieved to arrest Mark Christopher Bell this year, an alleged career criminal that police call a notorious scam artist. Police said he often appeared well-dressed on doorsteps, telling people his car was broken down or towed to the impound lot. Police apprehended him in August in the city of St. Bonifacius.
“He had a friend out there, and he was taking that friend for a ride too, for cash,” Diaz said. “This guy was just an incredible crime spree.”
Bell remains in custody, and his latest court appearance was scheduled for Jan. 13.
Prostitution incidents were remarkably low in Southwest this year, dropping 77 percent from 31 incidents in 2012 to seven in 2013. Diaz said it seems the “Johns” have migrated away from the area.
“I don’t see it on the street like I did 15-20 years ago,” Diaz said.
Robberies were up 13 percent. Police sent out a series of crime alerts in recent months highlighting recurrent street muggings east of Lake Calhoun, a robbery pattern targeting Hispanic victims, and a string of Dec. 31 business robberies.
Lately the robberies are more scattered, police said, and we’ve emerged from the holiday period when robberies tend to be more frequent. Diaz stressed that some pedestrians need to become more aware of their surroundings as they walk the streets absorbed in iPhones.
“[Criminals] can get $50 to $80 on these things … it’s instant cash for them,” Diaz said.
Similarly, Property Crimes Lt. Lee Edwards said the Uptown crowd needs to be more careful with valuables at bars.
“Now there’s a rash of thefts in Uptown, and predominantly the victims are female,” Edwards said. “They like to leave their purses on the ground, or hanging off the back of the chair.”
Catching career burglars
Burglaries were a primary area of focus for the 5th Precinct this year.
“We knew going into this year that burglaries were a big problem for us, and we were trying to stay on top of them,” Diaz said. “I think we’ve been able to do that, maybe not reduction-wise, but we’ve put some bad people away.”
Major arrests included Tanner Scott Dewitt, age 22, a convicted jewelry thief who used relatively unsophisticated techniques — police said he smashed through doors and left fingerprints at homes in the Kingfield and East Harriet neighborhoods. Police had him on their radar for two years. On Aug. 8, a resident at the 3500 block of Aldrich spotted him kicking in the door of a neighbor’s house and called 911. An officer was able to get one handcuff on Dewitt before he fled, but officers apprehended him the next day in North Minneapolis. He was sentenced to 39 months in prison.
Police arrested another prolific juvenile burglar who allegedly made at least 15 burglaries and posted some of the loot on Facebook. The boy and his crew broke into occupied homes, police said, taking electronics and credit cards while the residents slept. Edwards said he was sloppy and left fingerprints, allowing police to apprehend him.
“The problem we have in this precinct is people, for whatever reason, refuse to lock their doors,” Edwards said. “They leave their garage doors open. They leave their car doors open. They leave their homes open.”
Officers are now conducting alley sweeps, leaving bright yellow cards on open garage doors to caution residents from being easy targets.
Edwards also urged residents to jot down serial numbers of their valuables — he said it helps police track the merchandise through the secondary market and return items to residents. He said police have made successful reverse stings by meeting with the seller and making an arrest based on a serial number match.
Police are promoting a new method of providing anonymous tips through MPD 411. People who text to 847-411 (TIP411) remain anonymous, the phones are not traced, and investigators respond to the texts.
As always, police are also encouraging residents to watch for suspicious activity and call 911. Diaz said there were several dozen cases this year of alert neighbors calling in, enabling police to apprehend a suspect as a result.
“Residents know their block better than anybody else. If something doesn’t feel right to you, it probably isn’t right,” said Crime Prevention Specialist Amy Lavender. “It doesn’t hurt to have the police come and check it out. It’s not going to be a hostile encounter with the person that they’re checking.”
To receive more information about local crimes, police offer “Action Alerts” to volunteer block club leaders. The leaders receive an email from police immediately after a crime occurs on or near their blocks.
“To my knowledge, there are very few police departments in the nation that give that level of information to people,” said Crime Prevention Specialist Chelsea Adams. “If you lived in another city, you might not have near that amount of information at your fingertips.”
2014 will mark another change of the guard at the 5th Precinct. After one year as inspector and more than 32 years with the police department, Insp. Diaz is retiring. He plans to spend more time with his family and volunteer with youth.
“I’m going to miss these officers,” Diaz said.
The incoming inspector is Lt. Todd Loining, who starts on the job Feb. 1. He’s worked in the department for 21 years, spending about half of that time in Northeast Minneapolis’ 2nd Precinct working day and night shifts. He also worked as an investigator in the assault unit and internal affairs. He came to the 5th Precinct in 2012, where he has managed day watch shifts, community response teams and crime prevention specialists. He previously spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps and attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
“The biggest thing for me is to always remember the oath I took to protect and serve the citizens of Minneapolis, and do it with great pride, enthusiasm, and a hard-working focus,” he said.
**This story has been changed to include updated year-to-date crime stats.