Fatal Uptown shooting spotlights robbery trend

Public Safety Update

A young man’s death from a gunshot wound sustained during a Nov. 8 attempted robbery is Southwest Minneapolis’ worst outcome yet in a months-long pattern of carjackings and armed robberies that police call “persistent and very troubling.”

While emphasizing that African Americans, North Siders and neighborhoods east of Interstate 35W are still disproportionately impacted by violent crime, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said violence this year “has not been relegated to a certain quadrant of our city.”

The current trend in Southwest is for robbers — mostly small groups of teens or young adults armed with knives, guns, bats or fists — to approach people on the street at all hours and target purses, cell phones and cars. The incidents have been concentrated in the Wedge, Whittier and Stevens Square.

The Nov. 8 shooting happened around 8 p.m. near Lagoon & Fremont in Uptown. The robber opened the back door of a car occupied by the young man and another person and tried to rob them. During the course of the encounter, a shot was fired — whether the robber was the shooter is unclear — and the young man was hit. The robber fled on foot and the car was driven four blocks east, to Lake & Bryant, where police found the man in critical condition. He died several hours later at Hennepin County Medical Center. No suspect is in custody.

Robbery and violent crime rates in Southwest Minneapolis have dropped somewhat from July and August, though they are still elevated. There were a total of 121 robberies and non-domestic aggravated assaults this September and October. By comparison, there were 70 robberies and non-domestic assaults during those months of 2019. Robberies, aggravated assaults and gun violence have been on the rise in major cities across the country during the pandemic, according to a report from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice

The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) recommends residents keep safe through measures such as locking doors, staying alert and using security cameras. Police made 28 arrests for violent crimes in Southwest in September and October, up from 23 during those months of 2019. Police believe some of the robbers active in recent weeks are people they have arrested for similar crimes earlier this year but who have since been released from juvenile detention.

Due to a wave of resignations, early retirements, quarantine leave, PTSD claims and other personnel losses, the MPD is down from 867 active officers at the start of the year to 713 active officers today — 121 are currently on leave — and 911 response times have slowed. Police say the 5th Precinct is currently staffed at around nine officers per shift, compared with nine to 12 officers per shift in 2019. (The MPD said exact 2020 staffing numbers constitute “security information” and cannot be disclosed — making it impossible to verify the year-over-year comparison.) Fifth Precinct Inspector Amelia Huffman said officers now have to work more overtime, weekends are harder to staff and there are fewer resources for investigating neighbors’ complaints about “problem properties, drug activity and street-level, low-level violence.”

Since George Floyd’s Memorial Day killing by an MPD officer, city leaders have been unanimous in their support for making long-term “transformational” changes to public safety and crime prevention.

During an October public safety meeting, criminologist David Kennedy told council members that stemming violence comes down to providing individualized solutions for a very small number of people in gangs, groups and drug crews. Kennedy praised the work of the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, which aims to prevent retaliatory cycles of violence.

“Effective violence prevention looks a lot like contact tracing,” said Kennedy, the director of John Jay College’s National Network for Safe Communities. “Between law enforcement and community insight, it’s very often possible to understand who’s driving things, who’s at high risk. What are we going to do with this particular situation to keep it from getting worse? Maybe it’s an arrest. Maybe the beef is over a $50 unpaid debt. Maybe it’s over a false rumor that needs to be addressed.”

While this approach is widely endorsed by city leaders, the role police officers should play in the short-term is a question of increasingly rancorous disagreement in a year in which more than 500 people have been shot and wounded citywide.

During a Nov. 10 meeting, the City Council voted 7-6 to approve out of committee a joint enforcement agreement that will add 20 to 40 officers from Metro Transit and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office through the end of the year. The council will vote again on the agreement on Nov. 13 and, if passed, the officers will likely respond to 911 calls and work in teams to combat violence.

Though the $500,000 requested for the program by the MPD is a relatively small sum, the motion rankled some council members who felt the department — which has already received over $180 million this year — had not given sufficient details about how the increased patrols would prevent further robberies and shootings or given sufficient proof that the money would be better spent on more cops rather than more resources for violence interruption programs.

“I would like a better answer about where the $185 million has gone because it just seems like it didn’t go into producing the outcomes we would have expected,” Council Member Steve Fletcher (Ward 3) told Arradondo on Nov. 10, wondering how the department “has eaten the entire budget” even though staffing levels have plummeted.

The police chief, whose manner is usually placid, responded with emotion.

“Whether it’s a $185 million budget or a $585 million budget, I have 74 people who are no longer alive in this city because they’ve been killed,” Arradondo said. “We can go back and forth on the $185 million, but that is not stopping the bloodshed that is occurring every day in our city. … At least 90% is salaries, wages and benefits. It’s not like I’m sitting on a treasure chest.” (The MPD says the department is over budget due to overtime costs.)

The fissures among the council became more pronounced as the meeting progressed, with Jeremiah Ellison (Ward 5) characterizing Arradondo’s response as “no strategy, no plan, shut up and pay us” and Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) denouncing her colleagues’ “disrespect for the chief.” “That is not disrespect; that is doing my job of oversight as a council member,” Phillipe Cunningham (Ward 4) replied.

Cunningham, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said he thinks there needs to be much more of a focus on programs from the Office of Violence Prevention, which is set to receive $2.85 million from the mayor’s 2021 budget, while still funding “targeted law enforcement.”

“When folks talk about people dying, those numbers are not abstract to me,” he said. “In my office, while I was sitting here with my windows open, I heard a gunshot that killed a 16-year-old a couple blocks from my house. When we add … folks who are out doing patrols, we are just adding to that churn and not getting different outcomes.”

Yet others also committed to a new public safety model are not as ready to move away from the MPD.

“The murders, the shootings, the robberies — all of these things have to be dealt with,” said Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins (Ward 8), who cast the deciding vote to approve the joint enforcement contract. “If we were remodeling our house, we would have the luxury to move out while all the rehabbing was going on. When we rebuild our police system, we don’t have the luxury to move out of our house.”