Crime, Law and Justice

MPD offers theories behind staggering increases in gun violence and carjackings

A police officer points as he stands near other officers.
Minneapolis police form a perimeter at Seventh Street in downtown Minneapolis on Aug. 26, 2020. Police crime analysts say the pandemic and unrest pushed the yearly rates for some crimes up between 2019 and 2020, while others decreased.
Ben Hovland for MPR News 2020

Minneapolis police officials say the pandemic and the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd last May both contributed to the increase in some types of crimes and the decrease in at least one type of nonviolent crime.

Members of the Police Department’s crime analysis unit presented a recap of 2020 crime data Thursday to members of the Minneapolis City Council's Public Health and Safety Committee.

“It’s undeniable I think that the civil unrest played a part in a lot of the increase as far as the gun violence,” said Cmdr. Jason Case. “The specific variables that are around that are probably up for debate and will long be analyzed.”

The number of gunshots detected by the city’s ShotSpotter system recorded the sound of nearly 1,400 rounds fired outdoors between May 26 and June 1, the first week of the unrest which followed Floyd’s death. Police said burglaries of businesses and arsons spiked during that time.

According to city gunshot detection data, more than 24,000 bullets flew in Minneapolis last year. And too often, the people who fired those bullets caused injury and death.

More than 550 people were wounded by gunfire in 2020, which also includes those who were fatally shot. That represents a more than 100 percent increase over the tally in 2019. More than 80 percent of shooting victims were African American. And 62 percent of people wounded or fatally shot were residents of Minneapolis.

The city also saw 82 homicides, an unofficial number which is double the city’s four-year average. The figure does not include the police killings of Floyd and Dolal Idd on Dec. 30, 2020.

Not all violent crimes went up last year, however. The number of reported rapes and aggravated domestic assaults both declined. Police didn’t offer explanations for those trends.

MPD crime analyst Austin Rice did offer a reason for the 45 percent decrease in shoplifting last year.

“With the downturn in economic activity with the pandemic we saw a lot of businesses close, “ said Rice. “Including those who stayed open [but] had limited hours, reducing opportunity and overall activity and operable hours for those stores.”

There were other crime trends reported to members of the committee.

In 2020 police recorded more than 400 carjackings — an increase of more than 300 percent compared to 2019.

A rash of thefts of catalytic converters fueled a 660 percent increase in theft of motor vehicle parts calls. However, Rice said that trend is not specific to Minneapolis. Other cities around the country are experiencing similar numbers.

“What it’s tied to is the increasing market value price of the precious metals that are found inside these catalytic converters,” he said. “So, this has become a very widespread issue across multiple cities.”

Council member Steve Fletcher asked the analysts if they thought pandemic restrictions, business closings and the change in social patterns have resulted in the increases and decreases in certain crimes.

Rice said determining the impact of the pandemic on certain crimes will be fodder for criminologists to study for decades to come.

But Case said it’s likely crime patterns will return to normal as more businesses start to reopen and people return to their usual routines.

“I do think as we see a change into more normalcy — back to the way things were from a business perspective — that some of those types of crimes are going to change,” he said.

Police leaders have also said a shortage of officers has made it difficult for the department to combat the surge in crime. Last year in the height of the crime spike, Chief Medaria Arradondo told council members the city was bleeding and his department was hemorrhaging resources.