In the tight-knit community of Elko New Market, just named the safest city in Minnesota, police officers are so popular that they’re invited to children’s birthday parties.
They’ve been known to judge neighborhood cookoffs, play catch while in full uniform and leave notes for residents who forget to close their garage doors at night.
“We’re here for you,” said Police Chief Steve Mortenson. “It’s your Police Department. We want that personal touch.”
Apparently it works. Safewise, a home security company, looked at cities with at least 2,500 residents and used FBI crime reports from 2016 to compare rates of violent crimes and property crimes, including assault, rape, murder, robbery, burglary, arson and theft.
What it found was that Elko New Market, with a population of 4,800, reported no violent crimes and just 2.7 property crimes per 1,000 people.
Other Minnesota cities have bragging rights, too. Half of the 20 safest cities in Minnesota had fewer than 10 property crimes in 2016. The state’s overall crime rate, according to Safewise, is the lowest it’s been in 50 years.
Leaders in Elko New Market, a Scott County city about 30 miles south of Minneapolis, attribute the ranking to community-oriented policing and vigilant residents who are quick to phone police if they sense something is amiss.
In a 2015 community survey, 94 percent of respondents rated their merged cities’ police protection as excellent.
Mortenson is proud that neighbors are on a first-name basis with all six of the city’s officers — including himself. “What’s with the formality?” he quips when someone calls him “Chief” instead of Steve.
Nestled along the Interstate 35 corridor, Elko New Market lacks a fast-food outlet and a supermarket but boasts one of the highest median annual household incomes in the state — about $113,600, compared with $70,900 for the seven-county metro area, according to 2016 data from the Metropolitan Council.
Taxes are low, streets are quiet and crime is practically nonexistent. Newcomers flock to the bedroom community because they can afford to build their own homes, send their children to high-quality schools and get to know their neighbors, said Mayor Bob Crawford.
”This is the friendliest place I’ve ever lived,” Crawford told the Star Tribune last summer. “If you plan on going on an evening walk, it’ll take you two or three hours, because you’ll be stopped. Everybody is gonna wave at you.”
City Administrator Tom Terry said that no matter how much the population grows, Elko New Market’s small-town culture remains. The community, made up largely of single-family homes, seems to take care of one another.
The notion is so comforting, in fact, that police feel compelled to issue an annual notice reminding residents to lock their cars.
“We’re like anywhere else, we’re not immune,” Mortenson said.