Violent Crime unit teaming BCA agents with local cops to focus on guns, drugs

A Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension unit is pairing up agents with local law enforcement to focus on high-level violent crime, the agency announced Monday.

The goals are to assist local agencies in finding and arresting people who are repeat offenders and have felony warrants, along with targeting “guns that are flowing into our communities and then the related narcotics trafficking that is very much interrelated to the violent crime that we see,” said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans.

The Violent Crime Reduction Unit started in January and grew from an earlier effort called the Violence Crime Reduction Support Initiative.

The BCA launched that initiative in April 2022 “with a goal to assist some of our local partners that were coping with a spike in violent crime and staffing shortages, in particular the city of Minneapolis,” Evans said.

Between April 2022 and December 2023, while working with Minneapolis and St. Paul police, Hennepin County sheriff’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement, the initiative made 1,384 arrests and confiscated 653 firearms, 145,070 fentanyl pills and 220 pounds of methamphetamine, according to the BCA.

The BCA provided agents, analysts, crime scene personnel and scientists to assist with pursuing cases against “repeat violent offenders who were engaged in shootings, violent crime, gun trafficking and related crimes,” Evans said.

New funding, new unit

In last year’s legislative session, lawmakers provided one-time funding of $15 million for four years to reimburse local law enforcement agencies taking part in the new Violent Crime Reduction Unit, so they can backfill at their departments and aren’t short staffed. Ongoing costs will be about $12 million per year.

When the BCA started the earlier initiative, they pulled “agents and scientists from other really important work that we’re doing, including our homicide unit, some of our large-scale narcotics work that we’re doing,” Evans said. “This allows us now to fund the agents full time and then we can go back to that other work that we had to pause.”

The funding allows for a centralized location in Maplewood where the unit will work. About 30 people, including both officers and civilians, will work in the unit.

The staff will include 14 BCA agents, two criminal intelligence analysts, two crime victim/witness coordinators and 11 taskforce officers from a dozen local law enforcement agencies, said Jake May, the BCA special agent in charge of the new unit who also led the previous initiative.

The agencies that will have officers and deputies assigned include the Ramsey and Anoka County sheriff’s offices and the Maplewood, Roseville, North St. Paul, Bloomington, Fridley, St. Louis Park, Columbia Heights, Crystal, Brooklyn Park and Robbinsdale police departments.

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While St. Paul police are not part of the new unit, they work on the Ramsey County Violent Crime Enforcement Team and have their own investigators focusing on narcotics, gun crimes and shootings, according to a police spokesman. They also work together with other agencies.

The Violent Crime Reduction Unit has a K-9, the BCA’s first firearms-detection police dog that’s trained to sniff out gunshot residue “and often helps the team find crucial evidence,” May said.

“We want the people out there — the repeat offenders, the people who don’t care who they hurt, who gets caught in the crossfire, or where their drugs end up — to know that they are the ones we are targeting, that we’re going to come after them,” May said.

‘Intelligence-led approach’

The funding allowed the BCA laboratory to add two forensic scientists. Analysis of firearms and ballistics evidence, along with DNA testing to determine who handled guns, will “provide answers more quickly” to the people working in the VCRU, Evans said.

The aim is an “intelligence-led approach to identifying those individuals that are causing the most harm in our communities, in particular, those that are committing shootings and trafficking firearms,” Evans said.

The new unit, while working with local law enforcement, has made 112 arrests, confiscated 66 firearms and seized 2,700 fentanyl pills and more than nine pounds of methamphetamine and other drugs like cocaine and heroin since January. The numbers aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons of the work of the previous unit, and the new unit expects the tempo of its work will increase as they get established, train in local partner members and set up their new work space, according to the BCA.

The goal is to get back to pre-2019 levels for crime, Evans said. Crime in Minnesota “still remains elevated, even though we’re going in the right direction. … It’s still important that we now double down on those efforts to make sure that we really continue to concentrate on those relatively few number of people that are committing a lot of harm in our communities.”

The new unit may respond to an incident if it’s connected to a case they are working, but they don’t respond to typical daily police calls, according to the BCA.

The VCRU is primarily focused on the metro area because about 4 million of the state’s 5.7 million residents live in the Twin Cities area, but it is a statewide team.

“As they experience surges in Greater Minnesota … this team will be available to assist them,” Evans said.

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