New maps trace the geography of crime in Minnesota

By: - August 16, 2022 1:13 pm

A Minneapolis police officer goes under police tape at Hennepin Ave near Lake St on June 15th, 2021. Photo by Chad Davis.

Republican media figures and political candidates have often attempted to paint the Twin Cities as a hotbed of crime and lawlessness in the wake of the George Floyd protests of 2020. But new data released last week by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension show rising crime is not merely an urban phenomenon. It finds that like most everywhere else in the U.S., crime is indeed rising in Minnesota — in both rural areas and city centers. And while the Twin Cities region tends to have much higher rates of crime than other areas of the state, the data show that the geography of crime doesn’t always follow a simple urban/rural divide.

In the seven counties making up the metro region (Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington, Anoka, Carver, Dakota and Scott), there were roughly 395 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2021. That represents a 24% increase over 2020 levels. 

Chart of violent crime rates in Minnesota

Elsewhere in Minnesota, the rate of violent crime — murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery — stood at 193 offenses per 100,000. That’s half the Twin Cities metro rate, but 16% higher than 2020. 

In other words, rising crime isn’t just an urban Minnesota problem — it’s a Minnesota problem. 

The data also show a great deal of variation in the rates of specific violent offenses. Armed robberies are about 10 times more common in the metro than in greater Minnesota, for instance, while the reported rates of rape and sexual assault are nearly identical. The metro area’s rate of aggravated assault is about 70% higher than greater Minnesota’s, while homicides are roughly 5 times more common in the metro.

In general, the urban-rural divides on Minnesota property crime are smaller. Regular theft, car theft, burglary and arson are more common in the metro than in greater Minnesota. Overall, statewide property crime was down slightly in 2021 relative to 2020, with car thefts — up 9% in the cities and 7% elsewhere — a notable exception.

Chart of property crime rates in Minnesota

The county-level data paint a similarly mixed picture. Hennepin and Ramsey Counties lead the state in violent crime, for instance. But Mille Lacs, Clay and Mahnomen counties — well outside the metro area — round out the top five. Mille Lacs and Mahnomen are home to American Indian reservations, which have long struggled with poverty and its associated challenges

Overall, of the ten counties with the highest rates of violent crime in 2021, just two were located in the Twin Cities metro. And one metro county — Carver — can boast the ninth-lowest violent crime rate in the state.

County level map of Minnesota violent crime

On property crime, Hennepin, Ramsey and Clay Counties again appear in the top 5, joined by Beltrami and St. Louis Counties. As with violent crime, the geographic picture is somewhat mixed, with hot spots located well outside the Twin Cities region.

The much-publicized pandemic-era increase in violence in Minnesota — rural and urban alike — mirrors national trends

Those trends are driven by a complex web of factors. A massive spike in firearm purchases during the pandemic put many more guns in circulation, contributing to the highest national rate of gun homicide in more than a quarter century. Society-wide disruptions due to the pandemic have frayed social connections and put strain on the small institutions — churches, community centers, schools and the like — that promote peace and cohesion in neighborhoods across the U.S. And social unrest following George Floyd’s death in 2020 has in many cases driven a wedge between law enforcement and the people they protect and serve.

Minnesota is exceptional in at least one regard, however: The quality of data collected by its law enforcement agencies is among the best in the nation, with 86% of local law enforcement agencies submitting complete crime data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Some other states, by contrast, have agency participation rates of less than 1%.

That data will give Minnesota cops and policymakers a leg up in addressing the roots of the crime increase, as complicated as they are. “By following the data, we hope these efforts will reduce victimization, improve focused and effective rapid responses, and hold offenders accountable,” said Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington in a statement.

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Christopher Ingraham
Christopher Ingraham

Christopher Ingraham covers greater Minnesota and reports on data-driven stories across the state. He's the author of the book "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now," about his family's journey from the Baltimore suburbs to rural northwest Minnesota. He was previously a data reporter for the Washington Post.