Crime worries Rochester residents, despite facts

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(Photo courtesy of the Post-Bulletin)

Crime is a hot topic in Rochester these days, even though the city’s crime rate has dropped in the past decade. While the population is up 21 percent, most individual crime reporting categories have remained virtually static. But city and police officials say the perception of crime in Rochester is actually getting worse.

Much of that has to do with much-publicized violent crime. In 2009, 24 of the 142 assaults in Rochester involved someone pulling a trigger. The record number of shootings killed one person and injured 23.

Today on the MPR News program All Things Considered, we’ll address how people in Rochester feel about crime and explore how that compares with official statistics.

On Tuesday, MPR News and the Post-Bulletin will host a community meeting in Rochester on crime and the perception of crime in the community.

The event will begin with a reception at 6 p.m. at the Mayo Civic Center‘s Grand Ballroom.

Community leaders, law enforcement and criminal justice officials and residents will join us for the conversation.

Residents like Todd Hager are concerned about how the community has changed since the record number of shootings a couple years ago.

Like other residents, Hager wants outsiders to know that overall, Rochester remains a very safe city — one consistently ranked among the best places to live in the United States.

But he laments that the graffiti, drugs and gangs present in Rochester are quickly transforming their way of life.

“Sometimes I think I have a very big gap between reality and my perception,” Hager said. “I perceive a greater danger than there probably really is.”

Rochester and Olmsted County have changed significantly since 2000. The city grew by 21 percent in the last decade to 103,000 residents. Rochester also is much more racially and ethnically diverse.

Demographic estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 10.4 percent of Olmsted County residents do not speak English as their primary language at home. That’s up six percent since 2000. Olmsted County is among the eight most diverse counties in the state.

Police records show Rochester’s overall crime rate has gone down for 15 years. In fact, violent crime alone declined 7 percent during the first seven months of 2010.

Police Chief Roger Peterson said when people think about crime in Rochester, two factors play a major role: growth and race.

“We’re not going to be a small town any more and we’re never going to be an all-white town anymore like we were 35 years ago,” he said.

But while the overall number of crimes has held steady, the city’s increasing population and racial diversity have changed how people perceive crime. And for some Rochester residents, the numbers aren’t nearly as important how they feel.