MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau says one of her biggest goals is to get guns out of the hands of violent criminals.

With three homicides in the city in three days, the total is now 37 this year. There were 32 murders in all of last year.

Police chief Janee Harteau says it isn’t easy to predict when and where these homicides will happen because the motives vary. She says the common denominator in most homicides this year has been guns in the hands of the wrong people.

The Minneapolis City Council will likely approve Mayor Betsy Hodges’ reappointment of Harteau for Chief of Minneapolis Police Department soon. Harteau’s second term would begin next year, and she says her main goals are reaching youth growing up in difficult circumstances and getting guns out of the hands of previously convicted violent criminals.

MAD DADS founder V.J. Smith has been working to curb crime in Minneapolis since 1998.

“Our community is in dire need of healing,” he said.

Of the three separate deadly shootings this week, police have made one arrest in connection with the shooting death of 28-year-old Jessica St. Marie. Police arrested Gerald Cepeda Saturday morning. Investigators say he knew St. Marie and has lengthy criminal record. The shooting happened while she was waiting for the bus on East Lake Street and Park Avenue South.

“Jessica came from a tough upbringing,” Smith said. “She was a girl that had a rough time. She went to treatment, but she was smart and people loved her.”

Smith says reaching the youth and providing more educational and job-related resources are the key to keeping homicide numbers low.

“This isn’t a problem we can arrest away,” he said.

Harteau says she agrees.

“We need to figure out how do we prevent these homicides,” she said. “When some are domestic or interpersonal disputes you cannot predict and people have access to guns.”

Harteau says she is not advocating changes to more gun laws, but a greater focus on keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people.

“This is about responsible gun ownership, and making sure guns are not in hands of people who are already violent,” she said.

The chief says the increase in homicides is a troubling trend across the country, but Minneapolis has become consistently safer since the mid-90s.

“There was a time when we were ‘Murderapolis’ and we were in the 100’s, but that doesn’t make me happy today,” Harteau said of the number of homicides during peak years of gang violence. “What you’re seeing now is those who were convicted with the early gang wars — their kids are now coming up. These folks are coming out of prison, so we are having those two worlds collide.”

Smith believes reaching young people from difficult homes will help in the future, but it’s going to take a partnership between police, city government, and the community.

“We’ve got to figure out how to heal of poverty, economics, housing and abuse of drugs, abuse of violence,” he said. “We’ve got to heal from all that.”

Chief Harteau says she is starting a special group of investigators assigned to look at shooting deaths to try to make connections between the crimes and hopefully stop retaliations.

V.J. Smith will hold a vigil Sunday for another homicide victim from this week — 19-year-old Elija Larkin — where he was shot and killed on the corner of 30th and Emerson at noon.

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