Serious crime increased in St. Paul last year, with crimes against property leading the growth, according to statistics the police department released Monday.

Part one crimes, which also include aggravated assaults and robbery, among others, grew 10 percent between 2016 and 2017. They dropped 2 percent from five years ago.

"We're taking it very seriously, because any time we have an increase in crime, it's a concern for us," said Police Chief Todd Axtell.

There were 22 homicides, an increase of three over the previous year, while there were 33 more rapes for an increase of 18 percent. They count as "crimes against persons," a category that increased by 2 percent.

Axtell attributed some of the overall increase to population growth in St. Paul. Theft and auto theft, which count as "crimes against property," were among the driving forces behind the increase, he said. Crimes against property grew by larger margins than crimes against persons — 11 percent.

Although it isn't always clear what influences crime, Axtell said, thefts of items like purses are often linked to other crimes, such as financial fraud. Retail theft of items for personal use is more common, he said.

The department will focus on working with retailers and the public this year on combating theft and auto theft, which account for 80 percent of last year's increase in part one crime, said police spokesman Steve Linders.

Robberies, aggravated assaults and burglaries all saw slight decreases last year.

Asked whether the department can keep up with the increase in volume, Axtell said "No, not as adequately as we would like."

Axtell said the department is finding ways to free up officers to respond to the more serious calls. Officers hand out paperwork at nonserious car crashes where no one is injured, and residents can fill online reports for non-urgent crimes such as thefts.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

Twitter: @ChaoStrib