Minneapolis police overreporting rape statistics

A broader range of sex crimes was included for years, so the city appeared to be worst in the nation.

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A Minneapolis Police Department squad car.

Photo: Dave Denney, DML - Star Tribune

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It’s a startling statistic: Minneapolis has reported the highest rate of forcible rapes in the country for the past five years.

But rape is not more prevalent here, police say. Instead, the Minneapolis Police Department has included a much broader range of sexual assaults in the rape numbers provided to the FBI since at least 2004.

The head of the city’s sex crimes unit, Cmdr. Nancy Dunlap, says it more accurately represents sexual violence and, in fact, the FBI recently asked all cities to report this category of crime in that way.

But after the Star Tribune inquired about the city’s apparent status as the national leader in rape, Dunlap said the department will send a letter acknowledging the incorrect numbers to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which collects the numbers for the FBI.

Politicians and law enforcement leaders frequently cite statistics from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report to compare cities and try to spot trends. In recent years, Mayor R.T. Rybak and others have touted a drop in homicides, assaults and other violent crime since such incidents peaked in 2006.

By contrast, the FBI’s statistics on forcible rape get much less attention, likely because it’s a vastly underreported crime and because law enforcement and other agencies have openly disagreed about what types of offenses it should include. It’s so controversial that Chicago does not submit forcible-rape statistics to the FBI. In Minnesota, only Minneapolis and St. Paul have been reporting these numbers.

Every year since 2007, the FBI’s stats indicate that Minneapolis had the highest rate of rapes in the country. In 2011, the rate was 100 forcible rapes per 100,000 residents, followed by Anchorage, Alaska, with 95.

Minneapolis may have given the wrong numbers to the FBI, but “this is a positive story for the city of Minneapolis and the police department as a whole,” Dunlap said.

“The public should know that Minneapolis has been overreporting and more accurately reporting sexual assaults in the city of Minneapolis.”

Knew for several years

Dunlap said she’s known for several years about the error, but correcting it “wasn’t the biggest issue on our plate.”

“My job was working on rape cases,” she said.

She said there was a lack of communication between her and those in the department reporting the numbers to the BCA. Dunlap said her staff wasn’t filtering out rape cases to comply with the FBI requirements.

The FBI will only count cases that fit rape defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” That definition excludes incest, oral, anal or statutory rape, or rape by coercion, cases that Dunlap said Minneapolis police had been including.

The FBI’s definition had been in place since the 1920s, until pressure from police and advocacy groups prompted a change to expand the definition to cover more types of sex assaults. That includes male rapes, which the Minneapolis police had not been reporting to the FBI.

As to the true number of reported rapes in Minneapolis over the last several years, Dunlap said she didn’t know. She also said the department wouldn’t go back to correct the data held by the FBI because of the amount of work involved.

She said she reviewed 50 cases from 2012 and found that 35 of those would have met the FBI’s previous definition of rape. She estimated that reducing each year’s total by 30 percent would provide the number of FBI-defined forcible rapes.

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