By Julie Wicklund, a citizen member of MN HEALS 2.0. Wicklund was the victim of a home invasion in December 2021.
As has been previously reported in Southwest Voices there has been a decline in some types of violent crime and shots fired in Minneapolis. The City has attributed much of this decline to the efforts of Operation Endeavor. I agree with this assessment and want to extend my appreciation to Commissioner Cedric Alexander for bringing together this multi-agency/multi-disciplinary team to aggressively tackle violent crime. It is also important to highlight that 87% of cases brought forward by Operation Endeavor were charged. This has been possible in part due to embedding the Hennepin County Attorney within the Operation Endeavor team.
I believe there are multiple forces at work that are finally coming together as the decline in crime actually started prior to Alexander's arrival and the start of Operation Endeavor. Some of the efforts of MN HEALS 2.0 as well as coordination and focused enforcement work of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Attorney's Office and others have also impacted violent crime and may be responsible for the start of the decline to which Operation Endeavor helped to accelerate.
HEALS 2.0, which stands for Health, Education and Law & Safety, is a 23-year-old effort to unite public, private, and nonprofit sectors behind a strategy to combat homicide and violence in Minneapolis. This concept and group was reactivated in February of 2022 to address the increase in violent crime in Minneapolis and the nearby suburbs. The initial focus of HEALS 2.0 was to address juvenile carjackings and serious violent crime. I began attending HEALS 2.0 meetings in March of 2022 as a public representative and crime victim.
HEALS 2.0, chaired by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, initially gathered information from all parts of the criminal justice system on practices around case assignment, risk assessment for youth detention, and sentencing practices.
Here are some immediate system changes made through HEALS 2.0:
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and the Juvenile Court are separating out carjacking cases and sending them to designated teams in hopes that these prosecutors and judges are more familiar with these types of cases and can be more efficient and effective in how they are treated.
In May, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced that every federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office would take on violent crime cases in addition to their other work. The increased caseload prioritized violent carjacking cases committed by suspects ages 18 and older. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office continues to handle the juvenile cases.
In May 2021, the State of Minnesota gave $4 million to Minneapolis-based law enforcement departments. The State Patrol and the Minneapolis Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were each given $1 million and another $2 million went to a Department of Public Safety Survivor Support grant program.
In an effort to have around the clock social workers embedded in the police department, two social workers are now working Nicollet Mall from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with extra coverage in the afternoon.
I believe that the reforms made throughout the State and local criminal justice system, especially U.S. Attorney Luger bringing adult carjacking suspects to federal court, and the later work of Operation Endeavor have changed the perception of consequences felt by people engaging in criminal behavior.
In May, Freeman recommended that the HEALS 2.0 work plan be broken down into the work of three committees: Early intervention, Prevention of crime, and Response to violent crime.
I am an active participant in the Response to Violent Crime Committee chaired by Mark Osler, a St. Thomas law professor. The core goal is addressing violent crime with urgency. To do that we initially focused on three areas:
- Execution of outstanding warrants
- Improving crime clearance rates and
- Hot spot areas of criminal activity
In order to address outstanding warrants, our group worked to renew the U.S. Marshals Task Force and encourage other task force activity to assist. The U.S. Marshals Task Force had previously assisted MInneapolis police and the Hennepin County’s Sheriff’s Office. HEALS 2.0 worked to re-establish that relationship. Other task forces include the Sheriff department’s Violent Offender Task Force and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
The crime clearance (a case that leads to an arrest) rates are a focus because the MPD has a clearance rate of 38% for homicides and 12% for carjackings, due in part to diminished investigative resources. In an effort to improve violent crime clearance rates we recommended and helped to coordinate an immediate infusion of retired federal officers as well as investigators from other federal, state and local jurisdictions to assist the police department.
To address the crime hot spot areas our group leveraged the current State Nuisance Statute 617.83 and brought in the State Attorney General to work with Freeman to develop a process that alerts businesses that they are in violation of the Nuisance Statute and would have 30 days to make changes or they would receive a formal notification that could result in their business being temporarily closed. Under the nuisance statute, businesses can be cited for maintaining a business that “unreasonably annoys, injures or endangers the safety, health, morals, comfort, or repose of any considerable number of members of the public.” If there is a record of an inordinate amount of drug overdoses, drug sales, homicides, or gun violence at the business property, a prosecutor could serve a business with notice of the nuisance violation.
Additional areas of focus for this committee have been in looking at violent crime in encampments, juvenile facilities for youth deemed mentally incompetent, and data monitoring. Data we are looking at includes shots fired, homicides, and carjackings comparing year to date, the previous 28 days, and the same time period in previous years. We are also keeping a watch on auto theft data, despite it not being an initial focus of HEALS. Auto thefts can become a threat to public safety when perpetrators engage in car chases.
With Freeman’s upcoming retirement, Minneapolis Community Safety Commissioner Alexander and Edina Mayor James Hovland were named the new co-chairs at the December 5 meeting. HEALS 2.0’s continued focus on violent crime will be important. I believe it is important to hold juveniles accountable for committing crimes and seek better options to change their trajectory by providing school support, job training and/or trauma and chemical dependency treatment when the first sign of at-risk behaviors are identified.
With other crimes, like auto theft, continuing to increase with perpetrators actively seeking out being chased it will also be important to look into efforts to decrease these types of offenses as well.