Gangs blamed for new north Minneapolis violence

Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak
Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak delivers his 11th annual State of the City address Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

A shooting this week in north Minneapolis is part of a citywide uptick in violent crime. Police say young gang members are driving some of the violence.

Minneapolis police are investigating the shooting death of Jody Patzner Jr., 22, who was killed earlier this week on the city's north side.

Mayor R.T. Rybak made it a point to mention the jump in violent crime in his State of the City address Wednesday. He called the shooting of Patzner a "horrible incident," and said the city cannot become complacent when it comes to fighting crime.

"Today, north Minneapolis is dramatically safer than it was back then. And the crime rate here has fallen faster than any other part of the city," Rybak said, speaking from the stage at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis, where he had given another address several years before.

"Citywide, violent crime is now down since 2006 when I was here before. It's fallen 41 percent to a 28-year low," he said.

Patzner was killed on a sidewalk in north Minneapolis. Council member Don Samuels represents a section of the north side, but not the neighborhood where the shooting took place. Like the mayor, Samuels tried to put the killing into context.

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"We're freaking out, by the way, over the fourth homicide in this year and we're in the month of April... That's one a month," Samuels said. "That would be the lowest proportionate rate if it extrapolates out, in maybe 50 years."

Some may judge how safe the city is by the number of homicides. However, Minneapolis Police Inspector Mike Martin said he and other law enforcement officers focus on robberies and aggravated assaults, because they often lead to homicides. Sometimes a robber accidentally pulls a trigger and kills his victim, Martin said.

"And aggravated assaults, a lot of times it's a matter of where they shot them or how quickly the medical response can get there," Martin said. "It's something that definitely concerns us and that's why we want to focus on those crimes."

Martin leads the 4th Precinct in north Minneapolis where robberies are up by 25 percent over this time a year ago and aggravated assaults are up by 40 percent. In downtown, robberies have increased more than three-fold. And there has been a nearly 75 percent jump in robberies in the 3rd Precinct in south Minneapolis.

On the north side, Martin said young gang members are behind the uptick in robberies. Martin said these are people who used to sell drugs — until an influx of cheap marijuana and cocaine from Mexico took away their profit margin — and now turn to robbing people for money. Martin said robbers travel in small groups and tend to strike after dark.

"They used to primarily pick on more vulnerable people: the elderly; people who are maybe new immigrants and less likely to report it," Martin said. "But now we're seeing them robbing just about anybody they think they can get money or merchandise that they can sell."

Martin said the increase in robberies and assaults is also partly due to the early spring weather. But he has seen slight decreases in violence over the last few weeks. That's because officers are focusing their attention on areas where robberies have occurred repeatedly, he said.

So far this year, officers in the 4th Precinct have recovered 69 guns, which is more than they took off the street at this time last year. Firearms in the hands of people who should not have them also contributed to the spike in violence, Martin said. He wants parents to emphasize to their children that it's never a good idea for them to carry a firearm — even a BB-gun.