Minnesota Republicans are taking a cue from President Donald Trump ahead of the 2020 election by raising an incendiary issue: Urban crime.
Although there’s not a single Republican in the state Legislature representing either St. Paul or Minneapolis, GOP leadership are already signaling they will try to leverage fear of urban crime to win support in the suburbs. That’s where they need victories to hold their narrow state Senate majority and win back the House after a metro-wide drubbing in 2018.
“People want to be able to visit a Twins game or a Vikings game,” Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt told Minnesota Public Radio, “and they want to feel safe while they’re there, not worrying about being attacked or mugged in broad daylight right in front of the Twins stadium. These are things that scare people.”
Daudt told the Star Tribune that crime could be an issue for Democrats in 2020.
“It is something that people care about and it is something people vote on,” he said. “If you fear for your safety in public, that’s a huge issue. And it is something that drives public opinion and voting.”
At a news conference Monday unveiling Senate Republicans’ legislative agenda, Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, cited “near daily reports of gang violence spilling into the streets and public transit. I find that very alarming.”
“I am saying that crime is up and it’s not OK, so what are we going to do about it?” Gazelka added.
But what does the data say about urban crime?
Violent crime has dropped overall in both cities since the early 1990s, in line with national and state trends. In St. Paul, the number of reported crimes fell about 28% between 1991 and 2018, and Minneapolis saw a decline of about 42%, according to records from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
In the United States, the violent crime rate has declined by nearly 50% since 1990, from about 729 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 1990 to about 380 in 2018, the FBI data show.
Despite this data, Republicans are shrewd to stoke fear of urban crime; after years of declining crime rates, the public has long mistakenly believed that crime is rising. In most Gallup surveys conducted since 1990, at least 60% of respondents said crime increased in the U.S. compared to the year before.
Trump has set the tone in recent years with his descriptions of urban apocalypse, often blaming Democrats for what he has characterized as dirty and dangerous urban areas.
“No one has paid a higher price for the far-left destructive agenda than Americans living in our nation’s inner cities,” Trump said at a rally in Cincinnati in 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported. “We send billions and billions and billions for years and years, and it’s stolen money, and it’s wasted money.”
Overall, St. Paul’s and Minneapolis’ 2018 rates of violent crimes — including homicide, robbery, rape and aggravated assault — per 1,000 residents ranked in the bottom two-thirds of similar-sized cities, an analysis of FBI data shows.
To be sure, an analysis of crime data from Minneapolis and St. Paul shows mixed trends for 2019. Despite a rising homicide rate that dominated local media last year, reports of total violent crimes dropped significantly in St. Paul. Property crimes increased by about 11% in 2019, year-over-year, according to data from the St. Paul Police Department.
Local data show that in Minneapolis, reports of violent and property crimes climbed in 2019 following a steep drop the year before.
In 2018, reports of violent crimes in Minneapolis reached a 28-year low, according to the FBI data. The police department has not released 2019 FBI yet, so it’s not clear how the city’s most recent numbers will stack up. A year-over-year look at the department’s own data — which may differ from the numbers reported to the FBI — points to an uptick.
St. Paul saw a record-low number of violent crimes in 2019 even as homicides reached a 25-year high, according to preliminary data released by the St. Paul Police Department. Property crimes — burglary, theft and vehicle theft — increased from 2018.
“When we had the uptick in gun violence at the end of 2019, [Police Chief Todd Axtell] made the decision to shift resources around to allocate personnel to address violent crime,” said St. Paul Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Mike Ernster. “Unfortunately, I think the byproduct of that was you saw property crimes go up.”
In 2020, the department will maintain its concentration on violent crimes, Ernster said.
“We’re going to keep the focus on the crimes that hurt people the most and have our resources out there to hold … people responsible for those crimes,” Ernster said.
The Minneapolis Police Department did not respond to interview requests.