MPD by the numbers: Warm January makes it muggy

Robbery rate increases citywide for first weeks of 2006

This summer saw one of the better media larks in recent memory, when a local TV station did an expose on crime in Uptown: Purse-snatchings, wallet-grabs and register-lootings were so widespread that some businesses pooled their resources to hire off-duty cops for extra security in the area.

Soon other media outlets bit on the story without checking one simple fact: According the Minneapolis Police Department's own statistics, robberies hadn't increased in the area significantly for the last three years.

But if things were relatively the same in Uptown, it was not so in the rest of the city. Robberies have been on the steady increase in all precincts for more than the last year and a half.

"For several months now, we've seen robberies and aggravated assault go up," confirms MPD Assistant Chief Tim Dolan. "It's youth-related. We're seeing a trend of street robberies by kids in their late teens, and new patterns around the city."

Most of the activity, if the MPD's regular CODEFOR meetings are any indication (and they are), is in a few concentrated areas.

For instance, the Fourth Precinct, the city's north side, is seeing an increase in robberies on main thoroughfares like Penn and Plymouth Avenues, where there's plenty of foot traffic. Same with Precinct Two, which counts the U of M campus and pockets on Central Avenue as its hotspots. The most robberies in the Third Precinct, naturally, are along Lake Street, and downtown around the Warehouse District in the First Precinct has ebbed a bit since the summer, but still has its share of post-bar-close muggings.

(Dolan notes, however, that the arrest rate is very high downtown because the place is positively littered with cameras.)

The department year-to-date stats through the first two weeks in February do show a spike: The First Precinct saw robberies go from 29 to 47 (up 62 percent) from early 2006 to this year; the Second Precinct jumped from 23 to 45 (96 percent increase); the Third Precinct went from 82 to 105 (up 28 percent); 58 to 101 (up 74 percent) in Precinct Four; and Precinct Five jumped from 55 to 80 (a 45 percent increase).

Over a three-year average, the increases aren't as stark, but the numbers are all above that average as well.

Generally speaking, Dolan notes, the department focused on stemming an uptick in homicides during the first half of last year. Now the MPD is turning to strategies--most of which appear to center on "increased police presence" in the troubled areas--to curb robberies. But the biggest factor might ultimately be the weather.

"January's numbers are not what we'd see in a typical January," Dolan notes. "There were more people on the street, more activity. It was the kind of thing we'd see in March."

The tide turned, however, with the recent cold snap. "Last week, when it was cooler than normal, our numbers were down 50 percent," Dolan claims. "Nobody wants to see [the temp] below zero now, but the police do. "

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