WJON In-Depth: Is Our Perception of Crime in St. Cloud Reality? [VIDEO, POLL]
ST. CLOUD - From comments like “It’s not your father’s St. Cloud anymore” to “St. Cloud isn’t what it used to be” there’s a belief by some that crime in St. Cloud is higher than it has ever been, and that it’s not a safe place to live. Is this just a perception or is this our reality?
St. Cloud Assistant Police Chief Jeff Oxton says the numbers don’t match the perception.
Part I offenses, which are the most serious crimes:
Oxton says the one area of serious crimes where they have seen an uptick is in robberies, which have more than doubled since the early 1990s.
So, how are we doing compared to say the rest of Minnesota? Oxton says statistics show that we as a city pretty much match the state as a whole.
We mirror the state. We're below in many areas. Some areas where we're slightly higher you'd expect, given the younger age of some of the people we serve.
Both at the city level and at the state level, about three quarters of the Part I crimes committed are larceny, also known as theft.
Oxton does acknowledge that all calls for service are up, but that includes everything from medical calls, to crashes, to nuisance calls.
Meanwhile, while serious crime stats in St. Cloud are stable, the county attorney’s office has never been busier prosecuting criminals. Why is that? Oxton says better police work is leading to more charges being filed against the people getting arrested.
What that means is anytime we make an arrest and send the case to the county attorney's office there are some they feel they can't prosecute, for whatever reason. But, we're seeing fewer of those cases so to me that would be the answer to why there's more filings.
Mayor Dave Kleis says the St. Cloud police department has one of the highest clearance rates in the country when it comes to solving crimes.
Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall says her office is dealing with the highest number of cases she’s ever seen, and a little over half of them are coming from St. Cloud.
Felony Level Filings:
Kendall says there’s a correlation between the court cases going up, and their crackdown on sex trafficking in recent years.
What we're also seeing from digging on trafficking is maybe 20 of those over 1,000 felonies are trafficking. But the calls that we're getting is they not only found the trafficking, but they also found the assaults, and the drug crimes, and the gang related stuff.
Kendall says, because sex crimes are more high profile and make the news, that could also lead to the perception that there’s an increase in crime.
The good news is, both Kendall and Oxton agree when it comes to crimes like an assault, it’s rare that you are going to be attacked by a stranger.
I can tell you in tracking so far in 2017, of the felony level assaults 80% of those are committed by a person that knows the person they are assaulting. - Oxton
Not to say that never happens, but it's five to one, it's dramatically less likely that it will be a stranger attacking you. - Kendall
Kendall says one bright spot her office is seeing is the number of crimes being committed by kids is going down.
Juvenile crime is going way down, but child protection is going way up. So its not the kids that are doing something wrong, it's the adults.
Felony level juvenile filings were at 93 in 2016, compared to 219 in 2000, meanwhile child protection filings more than doubled during that same period.
So, how safe do we as a community feel in our own town? The city commissioned a survey earlier this, which was conducted by St. Cloud State University.
93% feel safe walking in their neighborhood during the day
72% feel safe overall
51% feel safe walking alone in downtown
Which brings us back to the question of perception versus reality. Kleis says the fewest amount of crimes actually happen downtown.
If you look at the actual statistics, downtown is one of the safest places in the city.
And, because the perception doesn’t match the reality, Kleis says they are putting more of an outreach emphasis on the downtown with foot and bike patrols.
Another area of town that is often thought of as being unsafe is the city’s southeast side. Oxton says the police beat that makes up that part of town actually saw a decrease in crime from 2015 to 2016.
Because we are a growing community, and there are more court filings, more resources are being put into public safety. Kleis says St. Cloud has 212 sworn police officers, and he’s proposing adding another one in the 2018 budget. The largest portion of the city’s budget is in public safety, which includes police, fire and inspections.
At the county level, Kendall says they’ve been adding extra staff in child protection services, para legals, and support staff. She says they’re hoping to add attorney’s soon. A staffing study should be ready for the county commissioners by the end of this month.
So, if crime is actually stable in the city, why is it that some people may have a different opinion?
The whole environment of social media is that the information is out there quicker, but the potential for misinformation is also there.
The mayor agrees that social media does prove to be a challenge.
One of the most significant things that happened here was last year on September 17th with the incident at the mall. I don't know how much I saw on Twitter about multiple deaths, and gun shots, etc...
While Kleis admits crime is 100 percent when it’s happening to you…
There's not a single place in this city that I wouldn't feel uncomfortable walking at any time of the day alone, because it's a safe community.
WJON Video Producer Alex Svejkovsky contributed to this story.