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.