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State report shows slight rise in crime

Crime statistics released in July by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) show an increase in crime rates since 2016.

According to the BCA's 2017 Uniform Crime Report, violent crimes increased 0.5 percent statewide, with murder, rape and aggravated assaults up since 2016. Robberies and involuntary sex trafficking went down.

Property crimes were up 4.4 percent since the previous year. Motor vehicle theft was at a 10-year high, increasing more than 15 percent from 2016; arson numbers rose 7.4 last year.

For comparison, the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for the first half of 2017 showed a nationwide decrease of .8 percent for violent crime and of 2.9 percent for property crime.

The BCA news release introducing the state crime report also noted that 147 bias-motivated incidents (up from 122 in 2016) and one law enforcement fatality occurred in 2017.

Ups and downs

Tracking local crime numbers from 2016 to 2017:

• Countywide, total actual crimes dropped slightly from 1,765 to 1,760, but the number of cases solved also dipped from 1,765 (73 percent) to 1,760 (70 percent).

• The Park Rapids Police caught the same number of aggravated assault cases (seven each year), while the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office's number went down from 13 to 10.

• Burglaries went down in the city (32 to 27) but up in the county (74 to 84).

• Larceny cases were slightly up in Park Rapids (243 to 245) and stayed the same in Hubbard County at 126.

• Motor vehicle thefts dropped by a third in the city (12 to 8) but almost doubled in the county (9 to 16).

• Park Rapids Police investigated more rapes (1 to 4) while the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office number dropped from one to zero.

During 2017 in Hubbard County, law enforcement reported zero cases of murder, arson and human trafficking. Meantime, there were seven rapes, one robbery, 17 aggravated assaults, 112 burglaries, 383 larceny cases and 25 motor vehicle thefts, totaling 545 incidents categorized as "Part I" or "serious crimes."

Of these cases, 213 were cleared during 2017, a clearance rate of 39 percent.

By comparison, the county saw 547 "Part I" crimes in 2016, of which 247 were solved, a clearance rate of 45 percent.

Crimes with the lowest clearance rates last year were burglary (12 percent) and larceny (42 percent).

"It's very common for us to have a lot of thefts and burglaries," Sheriff Cory Aukes told the Enterprise. "The reason is simply that we have so many lake cabins, seasonal places that are subject to being broken into in the off-season. A lot of it happens in the wintertime. A lot of these places, nobody is around. They're really a target."

The reason these crimes have a low clearance rate, he said, is "simply because there are no witnesses and, a lot of times, very little evidence. A lot of times, the owner doesn't find out about it until days, weeks or even months later. So, it's difficult to pick up and run with that."

Asked how property owners can lower their risk of being a victim, Aukes said, "I certainly advise people to have good lighting; secure their outbuildings, their house; talk to your neighbors, let them know you're going to be gone and to keep an eye out for things; and if they can afford it, get a security system, and have some good signage that you have an alarm system. Advertise it, so potential suspects would be discouraged."

Aukes added that an audible alarm is probably best in a remote area because they may scare burglars off while law enforcement may take a while to arrive. Closer to town, he said, "you might want a silent alarm to give us an opportunity to get there without their knowledge of the alarm, and the chances of us actually catching somebody on scene go up immensely."

Regarding less serious offenses, there were 1,214 crimes reported countywide, including assaults, forgery or counterfeiting, fraud, stolen property, vandalism, weapon violations, sex offenses, drug abuse, driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, liquor law violations, family and children issues and more; or 5,824 incidents per 100,000 population.

The closure rate for all these "Part II" crimes was 83 percent. Hardest to solve among them were vandalism (34 percent), fraud (45 percent) and forgery/counterfeiting (48 percent).

Crime rate statistics measure the relative prevalence of crime by reckoning the number of incidents against a population of 100,000 people. With its population of 20,844, Hubbard County had a "serious crime" rate of 2,615 incidents per 100,000 population last year, and an overall rate of 8,444 crimes per 100,000 people.

Local agencies

Zooming in on law enforcement agencies, the Menahga Police Department apparently did not report its 2017 crime statistics to the BCA.

The Akeley Police Department investigated a total of 36 crimes last year, including 14 "Part I" serious crimes and 22 "Part II" crimes. It solved 26 cases for an overall closure rate of 72 percent.

In 2016, for comparison, Akeley Police Department's numbers were 39 total crimes, 20 of them "Part I" serious crimes, and 25 crimes solved, a clearance rate of 64 percent.

The Park Rapids Police Department (PRPD) investigated 724 total incidents in 2017, including 292 "Part I" serious crimes, 431 "Part II" crimes and one juvenile runaway case. Of these cases, 503 were solved for a closure rate of 69 percent.

The PRPD's 2016 numbers were 801 total crimes (297 serious) and 591 cases solved for a clearance rate of 74 percent.

Regarding the prevalence of property-related crimes, like burglary and larceny, Park Rapids Police Chief Jeff Appel told the Enterprise, "Every city goes through these problems. Most of those crimes are, in my experience, directly related to drug crime. We've worked with the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office to focus on that area."

Local figures in the BCA report illustrate the prevalence of drug issues in Hubbard County. In 2017, there were 83 drug crimes investigated by the sheriff's office, 32 by the Park Rapids Police and seven by the Akeley Police. All were cleared, except one case in Park Rapids.

Aukes agreed that drugs have been a consistent concern in Hubbard County — "which is why we work them as hard as we can, and why I increased the number of drug task force investigators that we have."

The sheriff's office investigated 1,000 total crimes in 2017. These included 239 major crimes, 761 "Part II" cases, and 696 cases solved for a clearance rate of 70 percent.

As for 2016, the sheriff's office investigated 925 total crimes, 230 of them under "Part I," and solved 666 crimes for 72-percent clearance rate.

Aukes said closing criminal cases has been a high priority for his office.

"I believe in 2016, I added a second investigator," he said. "I pushed this to the county board, and they allowed me to add that position for one reason only: because we needed to solve more felonies. I didn't ask for another traffic officer; I asked for another criminal investigator, and I got it, and he has done wonders for this department and for the citizens of this county."

Law enforcement response

Appel said nothing in the BCA's crime report "jumps off the page" as alarming or different from other jurisdictions where he has worked.

"Obviously, we're always working hard to keep crime as low as possible, and just being out in the community and being visible," he said. "We look at the reports and see if there's anything that identifies a problem."

"The employees here at the sheriff's office take all crime seriously," Aukes stressed. "They do their best to investigate each and every case that comes into our office."

Asked about areas of concern that his department is working on, Appel said, "We always have a goal for traffic enforcement, to make the community safe for the motoring public and for pedestrians in town."

Appel acknowledged the work of community groups in Park Rapids to address drug crime and driving under the influence, such as Hubbard in Prevention and the Committee for Safe Roads. "It's not a community issue; it's a nationwide issue," he said.

It may be difficult to draw firm conclusions based on such small numbers.

"Numbers are numbers," said Appel. "We have a feel for what's going on in the community. I feel this is a safe community, and I think the numbers show that."