Minneapolis police officials on Wednesday announced the kick-off of the department's summer crime-fighting collaboration for downtown.
Under the seven-year-old collaboration, Minneapolis police officers are joined on the streets by Hennepin County Sheriff's deputies and Metro Transit police officers. The announcement comes amidst a sharp spike in robberies downtown.
The Minneapolis Police Department says the number of robberies reported in downtown has more than doubled from 55 at this time last year to 119 so far this year. Downtown has also seen an overall increase in violent crime this year of more than 50 percent compared to last year.
However, Police Chief Tim Dolan said considering the tens of thousands of people who live, work and visit downtown Minneapolis every day, crime is lower here than in any other part of the city.
"You think about the numbers downtown and you look at our statistics and figure out how many crimes there are per person downtown, it's relatively really low," Dolan said.
Dolan said some of the downtown robberies and assaults earlier this year were committed by groups of young people who formed "flash mobs." He said officers focused their patrols on the areas where the assaults were happening, made some arrests and alleviated the problem.
The department's new First Precinct Inspector Eddie Frizell said there are things people can do to avoid becoming a robbery victim. Frizell said the department has initiated an awareness campaign to warn people about the risk associated with using cell phones and portable computers in public.
"As they walk down the street they have a tendency to be so focused on that piece of equipment," Frizell said. "Crimes of opportunity often occur when an individual is not paying attention to what's going on around them."
The city's summer crime-fighting strategy also includes the use of officers on horseback. The mounted patrol is often used for crowd control at protests and parades and especially at bar time as hundreds of patrons mill about on city sidewalks and streets.
"It takes one horse to move the amount of people that it would take 10 officers to move," said Officer Robin Waggoner. "They're very efficient."
Waggoner said Diego, her Tennessee Walker mix, and other horses are trained to handle the demands of shepherding sometimes rowdy bar-goers.
"Follow along behind and just kind of slowly walk and say 'time to go.' And most of them listen. The majority of them do," she said.
Waggoner said the horses are also great for fostering better police community relations. She said officers often strike up conversations with people who stop to pet the horses.
Dolan said public contact and visibility are important. He said people feel safer when they see officers on foot, on bikes, or on horses. And Dolan said that also serves as a deterrent to would-be offenders.