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Frustration as stolen van filled with tools spotted in homeless encampment; police won't help

A Minneapolis husband-wife property management team was forced to investigate the theft of their property themselves as police deemed the encampment "too hostile."

MINNEAPOLIS — Under the watchful eye of a surveillance camera, a thief breaks into the work van filled with tools belonging to Ross and Heather Lumley, owners of the small property management company The Stepping Stone Group.

"He's got a bright yellow construction vest on so no one's asking questions," Heather says.

"It's very violating to know your years of hard work are driven off by some criminal," Ross says while the couple reviews their video.

After driving off with the van, the thief comes back for their box truck.

"Yeah, it's very frustrating," Ross says.

The next day, the Lumleys find the box truck, stripped and abandoned.

And the GPS from the van pings from what's known as the "Near-North homeless encampment" in the Harrison neighborhood of Minneapolis off Humboldt Avenue.

It's one of at least 18 encampment sites known to city officials.

When the Lumley's get there, they can see the van inside and shoot a cell phone video of people handling their power tools.

So they call police.

"If I can see my stolen property, I don't care if its in someone's home, in their business or on the street, I should have the right to go retrieve it with the authorities," Heather says.

But the Lumleys say they were told by MPD that officers can't go into the encampment to investigate or get the stolen property.

"To have just that kind of brush-aside when we actually need something was, to me, more frustrating than the actual theft," Heather says.

A Minneapolis police spokesperson tells KARE 11 News that for life-saving situations, they don't hesitate to enter encampments. But for property crimes, because of the hostile nature toward police inside the encampments, they need to slow down and make sure they have available staffing and resources before proceeding.

So the Lumleys attempt to get the van back themselves — filming a video following it as it drives out of the encampment — before the van speeds up and loses them.

The next day, the Lumleys learn the empty van was recovered, trashed and crashed in an alley.

"It was part of multiple hit and runs so now we're talking about residents' vehicles just being hit on the side of the road," Heather says.

That still left the missing tools, so Heather, baby in tow, goes into the encampment alone and asked for the tools back. She was able to recover a few.

"And the cops sat around the corner," she says.

Full-time encampment resident Ted Fox says he's frustrated when criminals use the encampment as cover from police.

"A lot of it is second parties — people who are acquainted with someone who's here," Fox says. "It happens quite a bit. Because they know this is a place that the cops don't come here and shake you down." 

He says most people living there would disapprove.

"Yes, it would be frowned upon," Fox says.

But the Lumleys feel hopeless by what seems like a lack of enforcement, repercussions and equal standards for wrongdoing in the city of Minneapolis.

"These criminals just need to be held accountable. And once that starts getting some traction, we can close the door on this chapter and go back to the society that we had," Ross says.

No one has been arrested or charged in the theft and destruction of the Lumleys' property.

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