In the wake of Little Falls: Rural crime numbers

While the wrenching community conversation plays out in Little Falls over the shooting death of two teenagers in the home of a resident they apparently were burgling, here’s a little rural crime background I pulled from the most recent Minnesota numbers. For people who worry about vulnerability to crime in rural areas because of scant police coverage and slow response, the numbers paint a slightly different picture than they might expect.

First of all, the overall crime rate in Minnesota as a whole is just over half what it was 30 years ago and is about equal to what it was in the late 1960s. The number of burglaries in the state peaked in 1981 and last year reached about half that peak — 25,153.

For all the talk about unprotected rural areas falling victim because of tight budgets and great distances, (a real concern that has resulted in people installing everything from farm security systems to guard llamas) you nonetheless are considerably more likely to be a burglary victim in the city. The crime rate in Morrison County last year was below the state average and lower than the crime rate in neighboring and similarly rural Todd County, for example.

And the clearance rate for crimes is high there. Both the Morrison County sheriff and the Little Falls Police Department cleared 73 percent of their reported crime last year, well above the state average of 50 percent.

The burglary rate in Minnesota cities was 544 per 100,000 residents, and law enforcement cleared only 12 percent of those cases. The rural burglary rate (those crimes reported to county sheriffs) was 306 crimes per 100,000 residents, and law enforcement solved 20 percent of those.

People’s perceptions about crime often don’t match the data, something we looked at in our project on rural public safety earlier this year. But tight budgets, changing demographics and new technology are causing many communities to look differently at how they accomplish their police work.

In particular, this Q and A with a couple of academic crime experts sheds light on rural crime.

You can root around in Minnesota’s crime data yourself by going to the Department of Public Safety’s 2011 crime report.

  • Jim

    More guns = Less crime. Numbers don’t lie.

  • fred

    To say more guns equals less crime is simplistic and ridiculous. 20 guns per person is no safer than 1 gun per person, unless you daftly think you can fight off a government M1A2 tank with your 20 assault rifles. The U.S. in 2009 had 310 million non-military firearms, that’s about 90 guns per 100 people. 4.5 million of the 8 million new guns manufactured worldwide each year are purchased in the United States. That’s over half of all news guns being snapped up by U.S. gun-loving citizens each year. Our crime rates should far lower if guns are the answer to everything, but they are not. What are possible reasons crime rates appear to have decreased even in these hard economic times when you’d think crime would increase?

    +Increased incarceration, including longer sentences, that keeps more criminals off the streets.

    +Improved law enforcement strategies, including advances in computer analysis and innovative technology.

    +The waning of the crack cocaine epidemic that soared from 1984 to 1990, which made cocaine cheaply available in cities across the US.

    +The graying of America characterized by the fastest-growing segment of the US population – baby boomers – passing the age of 50.

    The definitive answer is that it’s much more complex and dynamic than putting more guns into the hands of people (but the NRA and gun manufacturers would love you for believing more guns are the final answer).

    People steal out of poverty and desperation. They often steal because they’re supporting hard-drug habits. Desperation trumps fear of being sent to jail or being shot to death. 100 guns per 100 people will not make this country safer, but social programs that lift people out of poverty and help them build and lead better lives reduces crime more than anything else. Reduce the root causes of crime and crime will likely decrease.

    We are presently the most heavily armed society in the world yet our crime rates are out of proportion to someone who believes more guns equals less crime. It just isn’t so.