Reported crime is skyrocketing in Minneapolis’ Downtown East neighborhood, stretching police resources and shaking many residents’ sense of security.
Serious crimes such as robbery, burglary and assault rose by 70% last year in the rapidly developing neighborhood compared with recent years, according to a Star Tribune analysis of available police data. An increase in property crimes drove the uptick.
The area, also known as East Town, was part of the nearly two-thirds of the city’s 81 neighborhoods that saw an increase in overall crime in 2019 from the previous four-year average. Meanwhile, 30 neighborhoods — including several in north Minneapolis — saw crime decline or hold steady, the analysis found.
Using Police Department data, the Star Tribune identified the neighborhoods that posted the highest percentage increases in what officials call “Part I” crimes, which break down into eight categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson.
Speaking at a recent public hearing, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo noted that such crimes rose citywide last year. Notably, he said, increases in domestic violence “still continue to drive many of our Part I numbers.”
“As we start into 2020, we’re still seeing issues involving gun violence,” he said, while noting that despite the continuing problem of shootings, fewer are tied to gang activity than in years past.
Robberies, which criminologists see as an important gauge of how safe a city is, decreased or stayed the same in most neighborhoods in 2019, compared with the previous four-year average. Another key safety indicator, aggravated assaults — which could be anything from shootings to domestic assaults — increased in just over half of neighborhoods.
Growing concern about crime downtown comes against the backdrop of an increasingly fractious debate over police staffing, with department leaders arguing that more officers are needed to account for a surge in calls for service and complaints from some residents about slow response times. But opponents, including some City Council members, contend that an increased police presence isn’t likely to have much effect on stopping crime and would instead contribute to the over-policing of communities of color.
An analysis of five years’ worth of crime data from every neighborhood in the city showed that most parts of Minneapolis have gotten more dangerous. But while the increase is troubling, it is too soon to say that general crime rates are going up again, said Joshua Page, an associate professor of sociology and law at the University of Minnesota. Yearly increases and decreases can be influenced by many complex factors, that don’t necessarily reflect long-term crime patterns, he said.
“It can be dangerous in terms of making broad statements about things having been fundamentally changed, and therefore in need for major policy changes, such as putting a bunch of money into policing, or cracking down on some kind of crime or another,” Page said.
Some neighborhoods have fared better than others, the analysis found.
Downtown East recorded 304 serious or violent crimes last year, up from the 179 such cases it averaged between 2015-2018 — an increase that was driven mostly by large jumps in the number of burglaries and larcenies. The area’s population has grown by several thousand people since the last census in 2010, as new shops, hotels, restaurants and condos have gradually sprouted up in the areas around U.S. Bank Stadium.
As with other neighborhoods, many of Downtown East’s problems can be attributed to homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues, says Pam McCrea, chairwoman of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association. Many of the crimes in the area are “crimes of opportunity,” she said, and can be prevented with common sense.
“We are going to get some of the big city issues and concerns,” she said, while pointing to a recent survey of downtown residents showing that a large majority say they feel safe in their neighborhoods. “We have the same issues than the general population has, it’s just more concentrated.”
Plans to open a police substation across the street from the Mill City Museum in the next six months are underway, she said.
Neighboring Downtown West, which encompasses the entertainment district and historically has had high crime rates, saw a more modest increase of 16% in 2019, when compared with recent years.
Population figures maintained by the Neighborhood Association show that the downtown area recorded a 56% increase in population since 2006, with nearly 50,000 people now calling the area home. Another 205,000 people come downtown daily to work or conduct business.
Some of the city’s North Side neighbors reported the largest reductions in violent crime, as was the case in Jordan and Willard-Hay. But others, particularly in areas south of downtown, have become hotbeds for violence. Considered the epicenter of the city’s growing opioid crisis, some of those areas have also seen a resurgence of gang activity. Neighborhoods like East Phillips, Whittier, Stevens Square-Loring Heights tallied higher percentage increases for murder, aggravated assault, robbery and rape than other parts of the city.
While Downtown East’s overall crime jump was highest in the city, it saw lower levels of violence than most other neighborhoods. Just 7% of the crimes in Downtown East last year were violent. Even in neighboring Downtown West, which had the most total crimes, about 15% were violent.
Police spokesman Garrett Parten said criminal activity has increased in recent years in the areas surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium, concentrated primarily around the light-rail station and an open-air parking ramp across the street. In response, he said, the department stepped up patrols and worked with Metro Transit police to shut down a “temporary ticket booth” that seemed to attract troublemakers.
“We had some issues across the street in the parking ramp, and to address that the parking ramp hired off-duty officers and then eventually completely changed security companies,” Parten said. “And those measures helped the numbers in that ramp.”
Police also stepped up patrols around Gold Medal Park after noticing a spike in lawlessness, he said. “It’s not just sending out more squads — we’re going to partner with community groups and our crime prevention specialists and come up with a multifaceted approach to dealing with those issues, because at the end of the day we want people to feel safe.”