A day after two people were shot to death in Minneapolis, Police Chief Tim Dolan said that the killings could not have been prevented by adding more officers on the streets.
"You know, I could have officers on every corner in the city of Minneapolis, and I wouldn't have prevented either one of those two homicides that occurred on the weekend," Dolan told MPR's Tom Crann. "And I don't think people want to see officers on every corner."
The weekend's first homicide occurred in north Minneapolis early Sunday morning. The shooting on the 3800 block of Thomas Avenue North killed one man and injured another. Police officers arrested a man in connection with the shooting on Monday.
A separate shooting outside Grumpy's Bar and Grill in northeast Minneapolis on Sunday morning killed one man. Officers said a bouncer killed 24-year-old Tirso Gomez in self defense after Gomez tried to stab him. The decision on whether to charge the bouncer is up to the Hennepin County attorney, but police officials said they are not going to recommend charges.
The two deaths brought the number of homicides in the city to 28 this year, compared to 19 total homicides in 2009.
Dolan discussed the weekend shootings and the city's homicide rate on All Things Considered on Monday afternoon.
Tom Crann: These two latest homicides took place both early Sunday morning, a short time apart from each other. What's the latest we know about these two deaths?
Chief Tim Dolan: The one was an incident at a bar in northeast Minneapolis involving a bouncer at the bar. And one of the things that we suspect it might be is self-defense. The other one was up here on the north side at about 38th and Thomas. And we suspect that that was a robbery or drug [related] because there was evidence at the house to kind of lead us that way.
We have decent leads in both cases and homicide has been working steadily on that since those occurred.
Crann: I understand there's been an arrest this afternoon in the Thomas Avenue homicide, the second one you referenced.
Dolan: Oh, good, good. That's very good. I've been out and about and was not aware of that, but that's good because that would be the more difficult of the two.
Crann: Neither of these appear to be gang-related?
Dolan: Not in a pure sense. Obviously, the northeast one, no. And the northeast one might be totally justified. And in this one, the one up on Thomas, we suspect more of a robbery motivation.
Crann: Last time you and I talked, we talked about the rising number of homicides, especially compared to last year. Can you put that in some perspective for us? Are we on track here for a -- I hate to put it in these terms -- but a normal year of the number of homicides in Minneapolis, 48?
Dolan: You know you don't ever want to call homicides normal.
And every single one of them is painful, and communities are torn by them, but numbers-wise, we're about an average year. And we just had such a good year last year, and this year, everything that seems to go wrong, goes wrong. And we've been struggling with it.
I can tell you that the officers on the street, we looked at their numbers and their production numbers. They're doing a great job. And we look at overall crime. The week before last is one of the best weeks we had all summer. I haven't seen the stats for this last week yet, but ... they're out there and working hard.
Crann: When these homicides happen, there are always interviews in the neighborhood in the media. And people say, 'Well, I don't care what the statistics are. Things are bad here, especially in north Minneapolis. It's been an especially bad year.' How do you respond to that?
Dolan: Well, I can understand the feeling. If that happened in your neighborhood, it's a bad neighborhood.
I truly believe that we are seeing more gun play, period, even though our ... aggravated assaults, which are felony assaults, are not up for the city, but we feel that there's just more gun play. There's more guns being involved. There's more shots being fired ... That seems to be something that we're seeing.
And in the warmer weather, obviously, our summer started in about February, it seemed like, early in March, so ... usually we have a nice break in a season, winter season. We didn't get that break this year.
Crann: Over the weekend, I also saw an article that said -- you probably saw it as well -- serious, or what the FBI calls Part One crimes are actually down in north Minneapolis. Put this in perspective for us, if you could please.
Dolan: Part One crimes are what the federal statistics collect nationally for cities. It's homicide, robbery, aggravated assault, sex crimes. It includes thefts. It includes burglaries, arsons. They used to be called UCR crimes, Uniform Crime Report. Now they're called Part One crimes.
And the north side, when you look at the number, they're down on the north side. They were down dramatically last year and the years before that, so it's been increasingly numbers down. And that's what we tell the communities is, 'Hang in there.' Sometimes it seems like we take a step back, and it seems like that with what we're seeing with these shootings, but we've got to keep marching forward and get the trend going back in what we consider a positive direction.
Crann: While these two don't appear to be gang-related at this point over the weekend, I do wonder if the demise of the Metro Gang Strike Force has made your work more difficult or has had anything to do with the increase we've seen this year in homicides.
Dolan: No, that would be -- I mean we had about 20 people on the Metro Gang Strike Force. Close to 50 percent of those people are my people that are here. We now have a gang enforcement team that's ten people strong that's working with our intelligence-led division called Special Investigations Division.
I think we're actually seeing more there than what we were seeing ... from Metro Gang. I knew Metro Gang very well. I knew the people in there, and frankly, there were areas that they were very, very effective at. Those aren't the areas that we're seeing problems [in] right now. So there are some things that have dropped off that we need to see pick up.
We had several large scale gang investigations that put a lot of people in federal prison ... That would help us tremendously right now, and we need to get that going.
Crann: Do you have enough officers?
Dolan: Well, you know, that's always a good question. That is something when I look at it and I tell the council members and the mayor, I say, 'We're always going to do the best we can with what we got.' That is a decision to be made by elected [officials] and the citizens.
You know, I could have officers on every corner in the city of Minneapolis, and I wouldn't have prevented either one of those two homicides that occurred on the weekend. And I don't think people want to see officers on every corner.
It's more of a case of dealing with people, trying to get them to leave their guns at home, trying to get parents to try to keep kids, get their kids in at curfew time, making sure they're not hanging around with crowds that are dangerous for them. It's more of an education piece.
Crann: On our Midday program, Mayor [R.T.] Rybak was on last week. And he said he wasn't too hopeful that there'd be more money for more officers. What are you hearing when you talk to the mayor and the city council?
Dolan: Well, 2011 is not looking to be a very good year. As far as city government goes, we're usually a year, two years behind, as far as the private economic sector. I think next year could be one of the worst years that we've seen in a long time if things don't start changing really quick.
Crann: In terms of number of officers and money available?
Dolan: Right. Tax dollars are down. If [local government aid] is reduced again, there's a whole lot of possible negative things that could happen between now and next year. It is going to be a very tough budget, not only for the Minneapolis police department, but for every city department and also other cities in the state of Minnesota.
Crann: There may be people who are listening and who hear you say even with a cop on every corner, we could not have prevented those incidents this weekend. Why not?
Dolan: Well, first of all, they're indoors where the altercations are occurring. I guess the bar one, they did go outside. But they're indoors and we can't police indoors. So we're not going to be there. And when I look at some of the other instances that we had in the city, those are places that we wouldn't be. They're not places that we would routinely be having a heavy patrol because they're not high-crime areas.
Crann: So it doesn't necessarily translate [that] more officers on the streets means a lower homicide rate?
Dolan: The more people you have, the more you can do proactively in areas where you suspect that there's going to be those type of events. When they're not occurring in those areas or they're occurring in outlying areas, those aren't things you're going to necessarily be able to affect at all.
Crann: So when you look at the increase in homicides this year compared to last, is it possible to draw a conclusion about what's causing it?
Dolan: Well, that's a good question. Believe me, that's one I get asked a lot by my council members and my mayor. And the bottom line is we're seeing a lot of guns. We're seeing a lot of gun play. We're seeing people that are willing to use those guns. And we're seeing, as I said, a lot of them are associated with parties or large group gatherings. And what's different there between 2010 and 2009, that's tough to say. For some reason, 2009, we didn't have as many incidents.
Crann: How do you get at that issue of too many guns?
Dolan: Well, we do a hard push on guns as far as asking officers that are working the street on traffic stops and others to be very, very aware and looking for guns. We've had some community buy-backs. We've got a task force effort with the ATF as well as the FBI and looking at enhanced penalties for gun violence, penalties with guns, felons with guns.
What you want is eventually get the sense that there's a reason, there's a fear of carrying them out here because ... the penalties are severe. I don't think right now there's a sense of fear of those penalties. So we're working with Mike Freeman, the [Hennepin] County Attorney, and [B.] Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney [for the District of Minnesota], to say we have to take that up there to where people are fearful of being caught with their gun that shouldn't have a gun.
Crann: It seems then these two homicides over the weekend are unrelated to each other, as far as you know?
Dolan: As far as we know. As far as being related to each other, I would bet my paycheck that they're not related. They're two vastly different areas of the city in two vastly different circumstances.
Crann: So, is there a strategy for combating that when you have these unrelated or sometimes people might say random shootings?
Dolan: Well, they say the one might even be justified, but it's making sure we catch who commits these offenses, getting them prosecuted, getting them sent to prison, making sure that people have a sense that people aren't going to get away with something like this.
Crann: Chief Dolan, thank you very much for your time today and your perspective. I appreciate it.
Dolan: You're welcome, Tom.
(Interview transcribed and edited by MPR News reporter Madeleine Baran.)