INVESTIGATORS: Crime in the Hennepin Avenue Hot Zone

A Fox 9 Investigation finds violent crime is up in the Hennepin Avenue theater district in Minneapolis, but so are the efforts of police to curb the crime.

From Washington Avenue to 12th Street, violent crime on this main artery is up 26 percent in 2016, compared to the same time in 2015. Peak time is midnight to 4 a.m. The Fox 9 Investigators crunched the numbers for the specific location with MPD statistics from the agency's web site.

Numbers provided by the MPD to Fox 9 show violent crime in downtown is up only 5 percent, overall, with no homicides.  By this time last year, there were already five killings. Arrests for robbery are up 57 percent and aggravated assaults 32 percent.

Late night crime

A couple, who talked to the Fox 9 Investigators but did not want to be identified, was attacked two months ago after bar close by a group of men they didn't know.  

They came in from the suburbs to catch a theater show, stuck around for drinks and a late night slice of pizza. Sitting on the steps of the Cowles Center they were suddenly surrounded by four people, and without provocation, violently attacked.

"Out of the blue, someone I didn't even realize standing to my left, punched me in the face," said the man.

"There was blood everywhere, his whole face was completely swollen, it was very, very scary to see him like that," remembered the woman he was with. The suspects ran off with the woman's purse.

Within 48 hours, police arrested all four suspects, still hanging out on that same block.

Businesses reacting

A dance company in the Cowles Center recently sent a letter to supporters saying "Our longtime home at 6th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis has now become an environment that is hostile to the arts." It continued saying there was "social unrest on Hennepin Avenue."

Lamar Carothers is in charge of security for the strip club, Augie’s, and wonders why police don't aggressively enforce curfew and loitering ordinances and seem to ignore the dice games in the bus shelters. 

"We are in the thick of it," said Carothers. "They're lining up on this corner here and they're attacking each other."

On the outside of the building, the business has several security cameras which capture all kinds of street crime. They routinely share that video with police.

More Blue Too

The MPD has eyes too, more than a hundred high definition cameras that can focus on downtown hot spots looking for the usual suspects. 

Mike Sullivan is the new inspector of the first precinct. He's knows the troubled corners better than most because a decade ago, he was a nightshift supervisor downtown. 

"There's a good edge and seedy edge, and that's what makes downtown a good place to come," he commented.

When asked if downtown has more of a perception issue or a real crime issue Sullivan said, " I think it's both." 

"There are some people who come down here to cause problems and commit crimes," he added.  "I don't know what you call it, frequent flyers who come down here to commit those crimes."

Construction along Nicollet Avenue has pushed many of those "frequent flyers" to Hennepin, where they can find intoxicated victims, staggering home like zombies.

"A lot of patrons think this is the coolest thing, like they're on a show or something," said Sullivan.

The casting call for the Hennepin Avenue reality show, just gets bigger after bar close.

By 2:00 a.m. on one recent Saturday, the energy is kinetic on the downtown street and the air is filled with the overwhelming smell of marijuana. 

And there are blue uniforms everywhere, on horseback, bike, and foot patrol.  There are 14 new officers assigned to the first precinct.

Police are also working with probation officers, and homeless shelters, trying to move the chronic offenders off Hennepin.

"I think our cops are good at doing their job. These guys down here, club scene, we're not looking for skin color, we’re looking for those who are too intoxicated to be on the street. Those who are out looking for trouble," said A.J. Jarts, who works at Dreams Ultra Lounge.

At 3:15 a.m. when you would think most people have gone home, police attended to a stabbing at Hennepin and 5th as small groups of people mingled on along the sidewalks.

Clash of Cultures?

"It's almost a completely different demographic that's in the bar when they’re open," said one of the crime victims Fox 9 interviewed.

That word, demographic, can sound to some like social code, another way of saying young, black, men.

Council president Barb Johnson believes that while the crime problem is very real, Hennepin Avenue is also experiencing a clash of cultures. 

"I think there is a lack of exposure of people, white people to people of color in this community. I really do," said Johnson.

In some ways, Hennepin Avenue finds itself at the intersection of our national conversation about race and law enforcement and whether crime is always color blind. 

But this stretch of a dozen blocks may be the closest thing we have to Times Square, the question is whether we all feel safe to join the party.