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A teenager has been arrested and charged with robbing a man and woman in south Minneapolis this week, in what police said is part of a wave of similar armed stickups across the city.

Police said the incident Wednesday in the 3200 block of S. 22nd Avenue bore striking similarities to other recent holdups in the area, in that they involved a group of juveniles or young adults approaching people on the street, asking to use their cellphones and then robbing them. Several cases, including the most recent one, involved suspects brandishing a weapon — usually a BB gun with a hair band tied around the slide, according to police and court filings.

In Wednesday’s incident, officers responded about 7:38 p.m. to a report of a robbery near the intersection in the Corcoran neighborhood, only to find the male victim holding one of the suspected robbers down on the ground, according to police. A black firearm, which turned out to be a replica gun, was found nearby, in two pieces, police said.

The teenager has since been certified as an adult and charged with aggravated robbery.

Surge in recent weeks

This comes as police have noticed a surge in street robberies in recent weeks.

Citywide, robberies are up roughly 40% through the first three weeks of the year — 75 cases through Wednesday, compared with 54 at the same time last year, Police Department statistics show. The Third Precinct, the city’s largest by geographic area, has seen the biggest increase, with 24 robberies so far this year, compared with nine in 2019.

The victims in Wednesday’s incident told officers they were sitting in a car with the engine running when they were approached by two males, one of whom asked to borrow the male victim’s cellphone to call for a ride. As the man was getting out of the car, the 17-year-old allegedly pointed a handgun at him and said he would shoot him.

As this was happening, two other male suspects wearing masks came up to the driver’s side door and demanded the keys from the female victim, ordered her out of the car, then took her wallet, police said. She refused to get out but handed over her keys. The male victim then tackled the 17-year-old suspect, knocking the gun out of his grasp, and pinned him to the ground. One of the other suspects grabbed the man’s phone and took off running with the other two, but they dropped the car keys in the process, police said.

The female victim said she called her bank to cancel her stolen credit and debit cards and was told that they had already been used at a nearby Target store, according to a criminal complaint charging the 17-year-old.

“Police determined that the handgun used was a replica BB gun,” the complaint read. “Investigators noted that the gun had a hair band wrapped around the slide, which matches the description of a gun used in several other robbery cases that Minneapolis Police are currently investigating.”

The other suspects weren’t identified, but police said the investigation is ongoing.

In a follow-up interview, the 17-year-old suspect denied taking part in the robbery, telling detectives that he had witnessed three unidentified males robbing the man and woman but didn’t intervene. The complaint said that he had appeared in court the day before the incident and was put on probation.

Police spokesman John Elder said Thursday that the department has stepped up patrols in the affected areas, as it would in response to any crime surge.

Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany