Jarred by the outcry over a recent carjacking, several mayors in west metro suburbs are meeting to strategize on reducing juvenile crime in their communities and the entire region.
The discussions began in meetings about regional issues, but safety has taken on urgency as the August carjacking in Minnetonka coincided with a rash of summer car thefts.
Violence remains rare in southwest suburbs and crime is continuing a pre-COVID-19 downward trend. But the Minnetonka carjacking, where a family's car was stolen from their driveway as they unloaded groceries, was one of two in the city since January 2022. On-edge Minnetonka residents packed a City Council meeting last week, asking leaders for solutions.
"We want to continue to explore deeper partnerships on our regional concerns, one of which is juvenile crime," Eden Prairie Mayor Ron Case said.
Now, city leaders are trying to figure out how to protect residents while offering teenagers who have committed crimes the chance to turn their lives around.
A 21-year-old was arrested last week for the Minnetonka carjacking, and has been charged with carjacking, aggravated robbery and burglary by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office. Police said he and three teenage boys assaulted a woman and stole the car. The teens have not been arrested.
"We don't have a good solution to help kids that are in trouble," Minnetonka Mayor Brad Wiersum said. "It's not just a Minnetonka thing, it's a west metro, metro issue."
Suburban police departments and the county often work together to address crime. St. Louis Park Mayor Jake Spano cited a recent collaboration between St. Louis Park police and the county attorney's office on patrols to spot impaired drivers. And while the Golden Valley Police Department struggled with staffing this year, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office was contracted to patrol the city.
More collaboration will be important, including with the city of Minneapolis, suburban mayors said.
"We're not trying to point fingers. We're trying to see what can be done to protect our communities and help these young adults who are committing crimes," Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris said.
Car thefts are complicated, Case said. While some people have been critical of Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty's hesitancy to prosecute teens as adults, relatively few people who steal cars are even arrested, he said.
Case said he is also concerned about what happens when teenagers do get arrested.
"There are not a lot of resources other than prison," he said. "And that's not the best resource all the time."
In Minnetonka, Wiersum expressed frustration last week that there seem to be few workable alternatives to incarcerating young people.
"Our officers, our cops, do a great job," Wiersum said. "If they don't have the support through the rest of the system, it's a problem."
Case said there is broad agreement that there is not enough money to help teenagers with troubled lives. He and the other mayors want to see more of everything, from after-school programs to more rehabilitative programs for young people convicted of crimes.
"We're trying to get upstream and prevent the crime," Harris said. "And for our youth that need help, we need to get them help."
Wiersum said he wanted to see mayors push for more state funding for alternatives to incarceration for teenagers, and in broader systems to support young people.
"We're kind of between a rock and a hard place without solutions to help our residents feel safe, and deal with juvenile offenders."