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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
28 May 2001

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 2, No. 22

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Suburban Influences on Urban Crime and Other Observations

The police precinct advisory council meeting shared several insights, including how suburbanites contribute to urban crime and how some crimes can easily be deterred.

by Jerome F. Winzig

Until our block club received an award, I had never heard of the Third Precinct Advisory Council. However, since the awards were presented at a 3PAC meeting, we sat through a meeting that provided several important observations on crime in Minneapolis. First, crime varies considerably from one locale to another. Second, center cities are sometimes victimized by suburbanites seeking illegal pleasures. Third, individual citizens can easily and inexpensively deter many crimes.

Before the meeting started, there were maps available that showed crimes reported in April by neighborhood. The map for our 90-square-block neighborhood had a dozen marks for robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies, auto thefts, and arson. There were no marks for homicides or rapes. But the maps for many neighborhoods closer to downtown indicated many more crimes, including rapes and homicides.

Most of the 15 or so civilian attendees were from those neighborhoods. The concerns that they raised during the meeting indicated their neighborhoods had to struggle with crime a lot more than ours did. The awards for the other block clubs revealed greater challenges that demanded a great deal of effort from their block leaders. One block club is trying to close down a sauna north of us that -- protected by various constitutional claims -- has been operating with impunity for at least 25 years.

One of the police lieutenants for the Third Precinct shared several telling observations about his work as a precinct investigator. He described the results of their investigations of a disturbing number of car-jackings in some neighborhoods. They found that many apparent "victims" were unable to provide specifics about the crime. "I was just driving down the street when someone took my car and drove off," said one. Other claimed to have been car-jacked several times, and one man had filed six or seven car-jacking police reports!

The investigations revealed that the alleged victims were suburbanites who were driving in to city neighborhoods looking for drugs. Sometimes the deal included letting the drug dealer borrow the suburbanite's car. Later, the suburbanites would go to the police and claim that their cars had been car-jacked. As a result, some of the alleged "victims" have now been charged with filing false police reports.

Another observation regarded assaults against women. In some cases, the victims are suburban housewives who drive into Minneapolis looking for drugs while their husbands are at work. Occasionally, the drug deals go awry and the women are robbed or beaten. In one recent case, a woman was severely beaten.

In response to a question from a neighbor in one neighborhood plagued by prostitution., the lieutenant said 50 percent of the johns arrested for soliciting prostitution were from the suburbs. Taken together, these comments were disturbing, for they indicated the degree to which some the crimes in Minneapolis are fueled by suburbanites' demands for drugs and sex.

Another observation by the police lieutenant dealt with stolen cars. Car theft is a challenging crime for police officers. When perpetrators are caught, the penalties are often mild. When stolen cars are spotted, the police are expected to give chase and apprehend the thief. Yet car chases are dangerous affairs for the police, the car thieves, and innocent passers-by. And when car chases end in accidents, the police come in for a great deal of criticism.

For that reason, police officers are not happy with the fact that 50 percent of all car thefts involve an "open ignition," where the owner has left the keys in the car. In other words, half of all car thefts are easily preventable without resorting to car alarms or fancy security systems.

This fact was especially galling to the police lieutenant, who said this was an area of flagrant abuse. He described ticketing a woman who left her car running while she shopped in a convenience store for fifteen minutes, oblivious to her vehicle; she was indignant when she received a ticket. In another case, two police officers watched as a driver started his car, left it running, and went inside his house. The officers waited for 50 minutes until the driver emerged from the house and got angry with them for giving him a ticket.

I left the meeting feeling that urban crime does not fit the media's stereotypes. Center cities are not uniformly dangerous; crime varies considerably from one neighborhood to another. If suburbanites quit looking for illegal pleasures in the city, a significant percentage of urban crime would simply disappear . Finally, another significant percentage of urban crime would disappear if people took a few elementary precautions.

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     Minneapolis, Minnesota

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