The great Minneapolis crime wave: Not as bad as you think

There has been no shortage of ranting and raving about crime rates in Minneapolis. In part, of course, this is because crime has been on the rise in the city for the better part of four years. But the tenor of the commentary--both in the mainstream news outlets and the local blogosphere--has become markedly more hysterical of late. And this being the political season, the problem has been laid at the feet of everyone from Mayor RT Rybak to Governor Tim Pawlenty to Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar to the Minneapolis Police Department. On the web, naturally, the usual suspects (i.e. Somalis and American born blacks) have been the recipients of some especially nasty lashings.

But when the publishing house Morgan Quitno Press released its list of the most dangerous cities in America this week, ranters of all stripes were presented with yet another round of ammunition. Why? Because Morgan Quitno ranked Minneapolis as America's 27th most dangerous city--a distinction that placed our fair community above Philadelphia, Houston and a host of other cities more commonly associated with street level mayhem.

The rankings were determined by the number of so-called "Part One" crimes--murder, rape, robbery, larceny, aggravated assault, burglary, arson and auto theft--that police departments report to the FBI on annual basis. (One important note: Not all cities submitted complete data to the FBI, so the statistics are somewhat skewed. New Orleans, for understandable reasons, didn't manage to get its 2005 data into the hands of the FBI, nor, for less comprehensible reasons, did Duluth or Bloomington).

Still, it is obvious that the end is nigh for Minneapolis and the time has come to hold all those pols, cops, and unruly minority folk to account. Right? Well, not if you bother to take a longer view.

In fact, over the past decade, Minneapolis has experienced a marked decrease in serious crime. In 1997, according to MPD spokesman Gregory Reinhardt, the city reported 42,287 Part One offenses. By 2005, that number had fallen to 28,318--a 33 percent decrease from those 1997 numbers. Reinhardt estimates that the 2006 statistics will probably be slightly over 30,000.

It that good news? Of course not. But is Minneapolis the Baghdad of the Midwest? No. It's just another medium-sized city that is facing a complex array of economic and social problems that are far easier to fulminate over than to solve.

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