Crime, Law and Justice

Federal crackdown continues as violent crime ebbs

A man looks away from the camera
Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger at his office in Minneapolis on Jan. 5. After a spike of crime in 2021, Minneapolis reported significantly fewer homicides and carjackings
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Minneapolis reported significantly fewer homicides and carjackings last year after a big spike in 2021. Federal authorities continue to push forward with an initiative targeting violent crime, which Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger announced in May.

The Minneapolis online crime dashboard shows carjackings down 20 percent last year, to a still high number of 524. Homicides also fell. Luger said it’s still too early to tell if this is a result of the federal effort, but he and other law enforcement leaders are cautiously optimistic. 

“I’d never heard of a federal carjacking case until I got here. And so this time, instead of seeing a gun case or two, seeing some sort of robbery case, it’s almost all of that. I could review 10 indictments on a Friday morning, and seven of them will be gun cases,” Luger said.

Luger had served as Minnesota’s top federal prosecutor for three years during the Obama administration; in those days he made headlines for sending Jacob Wetterling’s killer to prison and prosecuting a group of young men who tried to join the terror group ISIS. 

Last year, President Joe Biden reappointed Luger to the job. Luger said he wanted to address the increase in carjackings and not just leave it to county prosecutors.

“For us in Minnesota, it’s kind of a brand-new crime. When I arrived and I heard that there were over 600 carjackings in Minneapolis alone, that meant that we had to dive in and do something, and we’ve got a federal statute and we’ve got authority, and the FBI working together with the police can make it happen,” he said. “These are such traumatic incidents for the victims.”

Luger also notes that consequences in the federal system are often more severe, which can be a deterrent for potential carjackers. For one thing, there’s no parole, and people charged with violent crimes are typically held in pretrial detention. 

“In talking with offenders, that fact alone matters a great deal to them. If they know that the federal presence is larger and looming, it deters people,” Luger said. “One of the mistakes we think people make all the time is to assume that violent criminals don’t have any rational basis for what they do, and the data proves otherwise.” 

The feds are also going after illegal weapons, especially machine guns. One recent case involves a 20-year-old man from Savage who allegedly praised a recent mass shooting and bought parts to convert an AR-15 rifle into an automatic weapon.

Luger said the weapons have become common because they are easy to get, easy to make, and easy to buy.

“They’re being brought in by the truckload, they’re being brought in on airplanes. We’re seizing a great deal of them. The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) has been all over this, as have other agencies. The problem is, you don’t have to be a very good shot if you have a fully automatic machine gun in your hands that used to be a pistol,” Luger said.

Between Luger’s terms as U.S. attorney, he worked for the large international law firm Jones Day, where he helped the Minneapolis city attorney’s office respond to legal matters following George Floyd’s murder.

After his return to government service, critics raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest, but Luger said he recused himself from the DOJ’s investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department.

“Our office has been heavily involved from day one alongside the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, and when I became U.S. attorney, I was walled off or recused from that because of my involvement with the city,” he said. “But the investigation goes forward without me as it did long before I got here.”

Luger said his time at Jones Day started before the DOJ investigation, and he said he was not directly involved with helping the city respond to it while working for the firm.

“[When] the DOJ announced their investigation, Jones Day decided that they wanted to represent the city in that as well. But I was walled off from that,” he said. “I was kept aside from that. I had nothing to do with it. It doesn’t matter as far as a recusal is concerned because the city was a client of mine, even though a pro bono one. But it’s not because I worked on the investigation itself, because that I didn’t do.”

Luger said because of his recusal, he has no idea when the DOJ might finish its investigation into the MPD. That effort is widely expected to result in long-term federal court oversight of the agency.