Police siren

Community concerns related to the increase in property crimes, particularly vehicle-related crimes, prompted a group of mayors, police chiefs and city managers across the suburbs to meet Dec. 17 to discuss strategic steps to find a solution.

Eden Prairie's Ron Case shared that the impetus for hosting a meeting among the five cities – Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Bloomington and Edina – was from personal connections, who were recently affected by vehicle-related crimes. This included a car that was stolen from a friend’s Edina garage and break-ins of vehicles at local parks.

“There’s a gut-level sense of the rise in car crimes” among area residents, and “that perception is valid,” he said, noting that while carjackings may be rare occurrences, that doesn’t mean residents don’t fear them.

“As mayors, we have no greater responsibility than public safety,” Case said.

In a Sun Sailor article published in November, suburban police chiefs shared how they’ve seen an increase in property-related crimes like vehicle thefts and burglaries over the past two years.

“I think a big part of it is that criminals are more emboldened,” Minnetonka Police Scott Boerboom told the Sun Sailor at the time, noting the “lack of accountability” for offenders, which he attributes to Hennepin County’s policy changes that took effect last January in which 19 “low-level” crimes no longer require bail.

The mayors released a joint statement establishing steps for regional response explaining three main objectives of the meeting including building on the established relationships of the suburban neighbors, sharing crime data and statistics, and establishing a multifaceted local and regional response to address the increase in property and vehicle-related crimes.

Case reported that it was “an extremely successful meeting,” in which they established the following action steps:

• Discuss ways to resolve the issue at the next Regional Council of Mayors meeting, which is now on the agenda for the meeting Jan. 17. This is a monthly meeting among mayors across 70 cities across Minnesota, discussing topics of commonality.

• Continue collaborations among the law enforcement agencies to coordinate a comprehensive and consistent response to crimes across the metro.

• Facilitate and strengthen the partnerships with law enforcement and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, to change policies that have led to an increase in vehicle-related crimes in the impacted cities.

This includes sending a clear message to the county attorney’s office to address specific concerns as it relates to three of the 19 crimes which no longer require bail per the county-level policy changes.

While Case said a lot of the low-level crimes on the list do make sense for not requiring bail, three seem to be “problematic” and contributing factors to the rise in vehicle-related crimes, and ultimately leading to repeat offenders. The three crimes include car theft, thefts under $35,000 and property damage (with no specified amount).

Plymouth Police Chief Erik Fadden shared the example of a suspect who fled officers in a stolen vehicle, who was later arrested. The suspect had been arrested and charged 12 times according to court records.

“We’re not sending a message to that person that would discourage them from committing the act again,” he said. “Even when they have committed the crime, we’re finding times when the County Attorney’s Office chooses to just not charge a person.”

Fadden said he understands there are a lot of factors that must be considered when the county attorney’s office makes policy decisions or changes to the way they handle court cases, but would like public safety officials to be included in the conversation.

“We’re not asking to be the sole decision-maker, rather, we are just asking for an opportunity to give our educated opinion on those decisions,” he said. “We have not had that opportunity to date and feel that many of these decisions were made ‘in a vacuum.’”

By shedding light on the situation and applying pressure on the county attorney’s office, mayors like Jeff Wosje of Plymouth say these are ways they can support their police departments’ efforts in keeping their communities safe.

“Quality of life starts with feeling safe in your community,” Wosje said. As mayors, “our job is to create a safe community for people to live in and we’ll continue on that path until we get the criminal problem under control.

“If there are no consequences for their actions, the problems are not going to go away, it’s just going to get worse.”

So far, the mayors are pleased with the response by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who has accepted their invitation to the Regional Council of Mayors meeting Jan. 17 and stated his support for the mayor’s interest in establishing a multifaceted and regional response to the increase in carjackings and other violent crimes.”

Hennepin County Attorney’s Office Communications and Media Relations Wendy Burt also explained that while some have raised a concern regarding the attorney office’s bail reform initiative last year, the crimes that were part of bail reform, developed in agreement by several other county attorneys and the attorney general, were determined to be low-level, non-dangerous offenses.

For example, auto theft, the taking of an unoccupied car, is considered a low-level, non-violent offense.

Carjackings, however, are considered violent crimes in which a firearm or force is used to steal a car or personal belongings from someone, therefore, charges associated with them are typically assaults and aggravated robberies.

In response to the increase in carjackings, Freeman recently announced his office will dedicate two prosecutors - one for juvenile cases and one for adult cases.

In addition, the office will designate an advocate to assist victims of carjackings.

“We will continue to be open to and interested in hearing input from our officials throughout the county and working with the county’s law enforcement agencies so that cases that are referred to the county attorney’s office can be prosecuted vigorously,” Bart said.

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@apgecm.com

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