Thieves stole cars from the driveways of three of Sharon McWhite's family members in Edina over the past year, but her breaking point came when a group of teens snatched her purse in a St. Louis Park grocery store parking lot.

Crime is "really out of control," said McWhite, 74. "I don't know if it's going to get worse this summer."

Robberies, assaults and gun crimes are causing waves of anxiety and fear among suburban residents across the Twin Cities. But in some areas, the perception of a surging crime wave is not supported by the latest crime data.

Violent crime rates have been rising in the last couple of years in more than a dozen suburbs, according to a Star Tribune analysis of five years of crime data from 50 of the largest Twin Cities suburbs.

A total of 51 homicides were recorded in those suburban communities in 2021, more than double the 22 recorded in 2019. But most of the increase occurred in the north metro suburbs.

Similarly, the total number of robberies in 2021 rose 20% from a pre-pandemic average. But nearly two-thirds of that increase occurred in six neighboring cities: Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Robbinsdale, New Hope, Crystal and Columbia Heights.

The majority of metro-area suburbs saw little or no increase in violent crime.

Officials in Minnesota and across the country are struggling to better understand the reasons for the surge in violent crimes in major cities, which are logging historic or near-record numbers of homicides and gun violence. Some researchers blame the aftermath of the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center. Others cite the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 as a public safety turning point, following decades of declining crime rates nationwide.

Even so, the data show a yawning divide between crime stats and perception. Violent crime rates in the suburbs — including the cities seeing large increases — still pale in comparison to Minneapolis and St. Paul, which combined for a record-shattering 135 homicides last year.

At least three-fourths of Twin Cities metro area residents live in the suburbs, so criminologists say it's no surprise that those communities get their share of crime.

"Crime in the suburbs isn't new," said Chris Uggen, professor and criminologist at the University of Minnesota. "We just often don't shed a light on it."

A safety patchwork

Measuring changes in violent crime is tricky because many Minnesota law enforcement agencies switched last year to a new federally backed reporting system. The Star Tribune worked with suburban agencies and consulted FBI statistics to ensure data used in this analysis were comparable to previous years.

Crime rates can vary based on population densities and demographics as well as land use — whether a city is a commercial hub or more of a bedroom community — and how close the suburb is to city centers.

The Star Tribune analysis reveals a patchwork of public safety trends — ranging from cities like Minnetonka, where violent crime is low and unchanged from previous years, to east metro communities like Roseville and Maplewood, where rates have gradually increased. In St. Louis Park, where McWhite had her purse stolen, the violent crime rate last year closely matched the average from 2015 to 2019.

A handful of agencies provided data for carjackings, showing triple the number of incidents last year than before the pandemic. But the analysis found 28 carjackings reported by 22 suburban police departments in 2021, compared with more than 600 in Minneapolis alone.

One consistent pattern found across nearly all the suburbs was an increase in property crime, partially fueled by car thefts and an explosion of catalytic converter thefts.

Suburban crime ebbs and flows

Uggen, the criminologist, said recent carjackings in the suburbs caused people to feel more vulnerable.

Just days after McWhite's attack in December, a 68-year-old St. Louis Park man was attacked during an attempted carjacking in the same parking lot. The man, who asked not to be identified because of safety and privacy concerns, said he didn't share the perception that crime is rampant in the suburbs.

"I know there's a randomness to life that you can't control for ... stuff just happens to people," said the man, a retired mental health professional.

He said his sister is "more sensitized now to being victimized.. and her friends are, too."

"She's got a friend that drives a Mercedes that actually is selling it," he said.

Howard Henderson, a senior nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University in Houston, said that "the fear of crime is as dangerous as crime itself" and that people will see their fears were overblown once things settle down.

"They're afraid of that primarily because what they watch on the news every night shows them and tells them that this is what's happening," he said.

What does concern officials and criminologists is the prevalence of guns. Even places with relatively flat crime rates have seen more violent crime owing to the use of guns, Uggen said. A strong-arm robbery, while traumatic, is different from being robbed at gunpoint.

Uggen said the issue of chronic offenders also comes into play. A series of nearly two dozen suburban carjacking offenses involved the same teens, police say.

"A large number of crimes can be a one-person crime wave, particularly in a suburban area with a relatively small population," he said. "The numbers then go up and the fear goes up, but it can still be a relatively small number of people who are actually doing the activities."

North metro crime

Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park are among the suburbs that saw a rise in violent crime, along with neighboring Robbinsdale, New Hope, Crystal and Columbia Heights. In fact, more than half of last year's additional suburban homicides in the Star Tribune's sample occurred in Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park and Robbinsdale alone — while most other communities reported no more than one.

Violent crime was rising in some of these north metro communities before 2020.

Brooklyn Center police Cmdr. Garett Flesland said in a statement that some people perceive a "lack of legitimacy of our police." He also noted that the number of serious offenders in custody has declined, partly because of COVID concerns, and that officers were encountering more repeat offenders.

Robbinsdale recorded five homicides in 2021 —including two cases of domestic violence — following a five-year period when the city saw only one. Just last week, a drive-by shooting killed two people.

Robbinsdale police Capt. John Kaczmarek said the city faces a more general threat of violence given that it borders Minneapolis' North Side, which recorded 30% of the city's violent crime last year.

Lindsay Dutcher, former president of the Robbinsdale Crime Prevention Association, said she's noticed neighbors are improving their home security systems. But she said she was more worried about safety during the six years she lived in north Minneapolis. "In my direct neighborhood I still feel very safe," she said.

Cause and effect

Henderson said crime is typically a response to poverty, along with other factors such as inflation, unemployment, dramatic social change and the erosion of trust in public institutions. "When people can't trust police, crime goes through the roof," he said.

Booker Hodges, a former assistant commissioner with the state Department of Public Safety, said that while economic conditions can spur crime, violent crime is essentially rooted in disrespect for authority.

"I talked to kids who were carjackers," he said. "It wasn't, 'I need this car because it's freezing outside, and I gotta get to work.' It was for a thrill."

The violent crime rate may be largely flat in the west metro area, but Hodges said victims have a hard time believing crime isn't worse when it becomes "very personal."

McWhite, who was robbed in St. Louis Park, said it certainly doesn't feel like crime is flat.

"The way people think about things and view it is their reality," she said. "If it happened to you, it's not flat. And it's not flat to people who know you."

Staff writers Tim Harlow, Erin Adler and Matt McKinney contributed to this report. Yves DeJesus, on assignment for the Star Tribune, also contributed.


The Star Tribune collected crime statistics from 50 Twin Cities metro area law enforcement agencies in communities with more than 10,000 residents, along with data from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

Many agencies transitioned to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) in recent years, which tracks offenses differently from prior methods. For instance, while the old system only counted the most serious offense in a criminal incident, NIBRS captures multiple offenses per incident. To avoid statistical inflation, the Star Tribune consulted FBI Uniform Crime Report numbers to compare data obtained from suburban agencies.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the general percentage of Twin Cities metro area residents who live in the suburbs. At least three-fourths of metro area residents live in the suburbs.