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Ramsey County hopeful early intervention is key to reducing carjackings

The county attorney's office, sheriff's office and several community partners have applied for a grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

ST PAUL, Minn. — As with so many other metropolitan cities around the nation, St. Paul started seeing an unsettling trend.

"We experienced the highest incidents of carjacking, exactly about a year ago, months of January, February, where we had 14, 15 car jackings that happened in our community," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said. "That was more than we had experienced before."

Carjackings that were also turning violent were of utmost concern. Choi said it was clear, they needed to ask for help.

"So we did apply through the Minnesota Department of Commerce--they have an auto theft grant, but we made the case that we needed to also include carjacking into the work that we were doing."

Choi said they've modeled this Youth Auto Theft Intervention Project after a successful violence prevention model of focused deterrence.

"There's a very small number of youth and young adults who are actually involved in car jacking," Choi said. "We think we actually know who most of these individuals are, and many of these individuals are in our systems today."

After having identified these young people, the work goes out to community partners like Tyrone Terrill who manages two community navigators who make contact with the youth, or their families. Terrill is also the president of the African American Leadership Council.

"A lot of it from the initial meeting can be, 'okay, what do you want, I don't trust you, who are you?'" Terrill said. "That's what we call a deposit relationship. You have to make deposits in order to make a withdrawal, kind of like a bank account."

Terrill said it's about connecting families to resources they might need to address what could lead to be the root cause of why youth get involved in car jackings.

"Just a support system that's real," Terrill said. "That someone who understands. We're not being judgmental, but how can we help? Even if their kid gets incarcerated for six months, nine months, we're going to stick with them the whole time they're in prison or in a juvenile facility. Because they're going to come out and they're going to need a support system."

The community navigators are to be involved from the very first law enforcement interaction.

"Even with the initial arrest for them, they're going to be contacting our guys saying, 'come now, this is where we're at, we have this young person,'" Terrill explained. "We're going to make that contact right then and there. From the very first arrest."

"This initiative is really centered around the community being that moral voice to these young people that this behavior needs to stop and we're not going to tolerate it," Choi said. "When you have those aspects of community and police working together, I think these types of initiatives can be successful."

"It's actually working better than I thought it would, it's actually working better than I thought it would," Terrill said.

The grant amount was for just a little over $550,000. 

Ramsey county officials said they're hopeful that if they are able to make contact with repeat offenders, they will be able to bring down the number of first-time offenders as well.

According to numbers from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, in 2019 and 2020, repeat juvenile auto theft offenders represented 37% of all juvenile auto thefts.

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