The science behind preventing crime in north Minneapolis

11:54 AM, Dec 4, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It's easy to judge the north side by what you've seen over the past 20 some years. The nation dubbed Minneapolis Murderapolis in 1995, a year when 98 people were killed.

Since then, those horrible times often point to one place: the north side. This year, on the north side, violent crime is up 14 percent from 2011 and gun crimes are up 70 percent.

Crime does happen here, it's true. But what you don't know is that almost all of it is done by just a handful of people. It's a perception problem that the north side is the bad side and that perception makes it easy to judge.

But those who work this part of the city, they don't judge. They try to make it better.

"It's not nearly as bad as people think it is," Minneapolis police officer Joel Pucely said while patrolling the area on a fall night.

Officer Pucely and his partner Officer Jer Yang work on a team of north side cops that police everything from littering and loitering to the area's most pressing problem, guns.

In a matter of hours, on a routine shift, the officers found guns wrongly in the hands of three different people who were pulled over on routine traffic violations. "Every day there is a case like this, you find a gun and there are four individuals in the car and of course, the gun can't belong to anybody," Officer Yang said at the first stop. A loaded gun was found in the backseat of the car but no one claimed it or knew how it got there.

Had it fired, that traffic stop could have been a homicide scene, but on that night it's just a gun being taken in. A bigger crime, possibly, was prevented.

Tracing those four people in the car, or that one gun, is where the officer's street work stops and the science behind crime fighting begins.

"Based on what happened last night, last week or last month what do we think is going to happen tomorrow or next week," Lt. Jeff Rugel said while in the war room of the Strategic Information Center.

The SIC is the home of investigators assigned the task of connecting the dots of crimes, criminals and victims to discern where the next likely crime could happen.

This is predictive crime analysis.

Investigators are sweating the small stuff because almost all of it, on the north side, is connected.

One gun found could be traced to a shots fired gang call weeks prior. Locating that shooter in the database and locating the scene, combine it with criminal history and the probabilities start to point towards the possible next shooting, who will do it, and where.

"I think it's a combination of both, predicting people and predicting places," Sgt. Jeff Egge said of the science. Places where most of the crime happens are identified by police as hot spots. "Hot spots are areas where crime is concentrated," Sgt. Egge said.

On the north side, an area just east of Folwell Park has been determined as "hot." So far this year, there have been two homicides and assaults in that area. Violent crime is up 70 percent in the area since 2002.

This data tells the officers on the streets where to look and where to look out. "Yes, absolutely it works," Officer Pucely said of predictive crime on patrol. By knowing where crime may happen, or most likely happen, police can focus resources.

They track it by connecting the dots.

Over at the SIC, Lt. Rugel and his team use massive charts and timelines to illustrate very clearly the connections. "This chart is showing how various incidents are related because of the people involved in them," Lt. Rugle said showing a recent chart of gun crimes.

The chart pinpoints dozens of crimes all somehow related to each other. Knowing those relationships gives investigators a literal road map to the next likely incident.

"This guy here is a victim of this shooting but he is the associate of this guy who is caught with this gun, he was also there, caught with this gun," Lt. Rugel says, explaining the details of the chart.

Another key tool is social media. Lt. Rugel and his team use Facebook daily to eavesdrop on the online chatter of criminals. Facebook is often the stage where warning shots are fired. "Every day we see messages back and forth between known violent gang members threatening fellow gang members," Lt. Rugel said.

Facebook, mapping and crime intelligence links the few to the many crimes.

But the dangerous work remains where it always has, on the street.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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