Why is crime down in Minneapolis? The broken-window theory

Mayor Rybak and Police Chief Dolan
Mayor Rybak and Police Chief Dolan announced the 2008 crime statistics earlier this week.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Law enforcement officials across the country as well as in Minneapolis have embraced the so-called broken windows theory of crime fighting. That's the belief that if left unfixed, broken windows and other signs of blight, help create a culture of lawlessness.

In order for that to work, somebody's got to fix those broken windows.

Oaks Hardware
Oaks Hardware, near the University of Minnesota, was broken into earlier this year.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

On a recent day, property owner Bill Edmundson stopped by Oaks Hardware store near the University of Minnesota to get a window fixed. Edmundson says he owns 149 houses and he rents to mostly University students.

He says this particular window was broken during a rowdy party at one of his properties.

Edmundson says he replaces about 30 windows a month and most times the windows are casualties of wild shindigs. But he says his properties also get broken into a lot. Edmunson says holiday time when students are away from school is another peak time for burglaries.

He laughs when asked about how much business he provides for the hardware store, "You can live off the business we give them on windows right here," Edmunson said.

Store employee and neighborhood resident Jerry Anderson stays busy fixing windows. He says the hardware store itself was burglarized earlier this year.

The thieves broke in to the business next door and came through a door which connects the two stores. Anderson also says there was a rash of car break-ins along the street in front of the store a few months ago. It's even happened to him.

"Well, I left my garage door open one night, a few years back," he said. "Somebody went through my car to see if -- they must not have liked my choice of music, because they didn't take anything."

Lowry Ave. bridge
There is some speculation that part of the dip in crime in the northeast section of the precinct may be due to the closing of the Lowry Avenue Bridge. The bridge which connects this part of Minneapolis over the Mississippi river to the higher crime section of north Minneapolis has been closed for repairs since April.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Despite the experiences of the men in the hardware store, the number of burglaries in this part of the city are down from this time last year.

Second Precinct Inspector Bob Skomra says cutting down the number of burglaries throughout the precinct was one the department's main priorities.

"Being aggressive with our patrol, making arrests and our investigators in the follow up has had a definite effect on the number of burglaries in the precinct which are down almost 31 percent over last year," said Skomra.

There is some speculation that part of the dip in crime in the northeast section of the precinct may be due to the closing of the Lowry Avenue Bridge.

The bridge which connects this part of Minneapolis over the Mississippi river to the higher crime section of north Minneapolis, has been closed for repairs since April. Skomra says, there's some validity to those claims. But he thinks they're a bit overstated.

"I believe that in some cases we had ne'er-do-wells from the northside coming over here and victimizing some of the east side residents," he said. "But I don't think that it was to the degree that some of those residents may say it was."

Other police officials say the last time the bridge closed for extensive repairs in 2004 there was a noticeable drop in crime in the neighborhoods closest to the bridge. However, police statistics show that crime was down from 2007 in these areas before the bridge closed in the spring.

City and police leaders say they are especially proud to see crime going down during an economic recession. Hard times often lead to more crime.

But even harder times are on the way. That's because the city will have to continue to fight crime with less money. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says the city is trying to patch a budget deficit left by a $13 million cut in state aid for this year.

"We're just now navigating through what that will mean," said Rybak. "That will unfortunately mean an impact throughout the city of Minneapolis. We want to continue to have public safety be our number one priority and it will be."

But, as more cuts in state aid are expected in the next year, Rybak and the city council will have to take a hard look at police and fire - two of the largest expenses in the city budget.

When asked if he would consider cutting police and fire positions, Rybak says he's not ruling anything out right now.

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