Violent crime in St. Paul rose 25% last year amid record-breaking gun violence and fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
St. Paul's year-end crime statistics for 2020 showed a notable, double-digit increase for every major category except rape and residential burglary. Property crime is also up 13% for the second straight year, according to preliminary police data released Wednesday.
"This has been an incredibly hard year for all of us — dealing with the global pandemic, historic levels of civil unrest and the very real economic pain during one of the most difficult periods in our country's history," said St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell. "It's astonishing that people will use these incidents as an opportunity to take advantage of others, victimize people and add to the misery they're already suffering."
A string of deadly shootings raised the homicide total to 34, tying 1992 as the deadliest year on record. Twenty-eight were killed with a firearm.
St. Paul officers responded to 2,326 shots-fired calls last year, more than double the number of 2019. And at least 220 people were struck — marking the first time the city has surpassed 200 gunshot victims in a single year.
However, the surge in gun violence was not limited to St. Paul, or even the Twin Cities. Most major metropolitan areas recorded troubling spikes in violent crime, likely exacerbated by a lack of housing, shattered public trust following the killing of George Floyd and high rates of unemployment and few resources in marginalized communities.
Authorities say much of the overall crime increase in St. Paul was driven by arson and commercial burglaries committed during rioting in the Midway area following Floyd's May 25 death in police custody. The unrest caused an estimated $73 million in property damage.
Returning to a "sense of normalcy" means leveraging resources to focus on the highest-impact crimes, Axtell said. Following a surge of gang-related shootings in 2019, the chief shifted officers into the department's gun/gang unit to support the growing caseload. He says the strategy helped reduce the number of gang shootings and likely contributed to a 91% homicide clearance rate.
"We owe that to the victims," Axtell said, "especially those who've been affected by the most serious crimes."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648