Violent crime in Minnesota’s capital city dropped 10% last year — even as a spike in gun violence doubled St. Paul’s typical murder rate, marking an all-time high in shooting deaths.
A Star Tribune analysis of newly released police data shows that while homicides soared in 2019, reports of aggravated assaults, rapes and robberies decreased, contributing to a reduction in overall violent crime. However, property crime reports grew by nearly 12% during the same period.
To keep pace with the bloodshed, Police Chief Todd Axtell tapped federal agents to assist with criminal investigations and shifted staff within the department to better manage the growing caseload.
The strategy meant fewer proactive policing visits and an increase in property crimes, characterized as burglary, theft and arson. Auto theft and larceny, in particular, saw double-digit growth.
“We have to make difficult decisions about how to best deploy our limited resources,” Axtell said in a statement Wednesday. “Last year we focused on the types of crime that hurt people the most, which helped us reduce aggravated assaults and rapes but may have come at a cost in terms of property crime.”
Axtell and Mayor Melvin Carter have each cast last year’s surge in shootings as “an anomaly” in a city where violent crime has been steadily dropping since the mid-1990s, according to year-over-year crime statistics. Although homicides left 31 people dead — including a man who was shot and killed by a police officer after attacking him with a knife — they contribute only a tiny percentage to the overall violent crime rate. Dramatic reductions in aggravated assaults, for example, are weighted more heavily in the stats because there are far more of them each year than killings.
Authorities caution that the data released Wednesday is preliminary and subject to change, but acknowledged a reduction in crime on paper may not be perceived that way in the community.
“In no way are we celebrating these numbers,” said police spokesman Sgt. Mike Ernster. “We understand that what people are experiencing means more than what these numbers represent.”