If you listen to the news each day, you might think that Minnesota is drowning in crime. It seems that every day brings a new murder or assault, but what's the real picture? We know news outlets cover violent crimes because they shock us and grab our attention, but how well do these stories inform our understanding of what's actually happening?
The truth is that violent crime fell by 6.7% in 2018. This is according to the official report compiled by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. But violent crimes are only one part of the larger picture. To understand the type of justice they should expect, Minnesotans need that larger view.
Highlights from the 2018 Minnesota Uniform Crime Report
Each year, the Minnesota Uniform Crime Report reviews all the crimes reported to the state's law enforcement agencies. Some of this year's more notable facts include:
- Minnesota saw a 6.7% drop in violent crimes. There were fewer robberies and murders in 2018 than in 2017. However, there was a greater number of rapes and human trafficking offenses.
- Violent crimes accounted for ten percent of all crimes reported in 2018.
- Of the 104 Minnesotans murdered in 2018, nearly half were shot. More than one-quarter were killed by a family member.
- Arguments and domestic disputes led to 41 of the year's murders. In many other cases, the circumstances were unclear, but far fewer murders involved other felonies (6), drug dealing (4) or gang activities (4) than arguments (24) and domestic disputes (17).
- There were 9.3% more rapes reported in 2018 than in 2017. It was the largest number of reported incidents in 24 years.
- The most commonly reported serious crime was larceny. There were more than eight-five thousand larcenies reported in 2018. Of these, more than one-third involved amounts worth less than $50. A slightly larger number of offenses involved amounts worth more than $200.
- The leading targets for these larcenies included shoplifting, motor vehicles, buildings and bicycles.
- Of the thirty-one thousand assaults reported in 2018, twenty-four thousand were "other assaults." This means they didn't qualify as Part 1 crimes. Only "aggravated assaults" that involved certain weapons or serious bodily harm counted as Part 1 serious crimes.
- The leading Part II crimes included vandalism (26,952), other assaults (24,443), drugs (21,274), fraud (21,060) and DUIs (20,591).
In total, Minnesota's law enforcement agencies received more than 330,000 reports of crimes, runaways and minor offenses.
Is the criminal justice system overworked?
The report estimates Minnesota's population at 5.6 million. Based on that estimate, there were 2,214 serious Part 1 crimes for every 100,000 Minnesotans. On top of that, the report showed there were another 3,536 Part II crimes per 100,000 Minnesotans. Taken together, these numbers reveal a criminal justice system creaking under the weight of its duties.
Perhaps this is why news outlets like The Atlantic have long reported that the U.S. criminal justice system has been largely replaced by the machinery of the plea bargain. In just one year, Minnesotans saw one crime for every 17 people. It's hardly surprising that judges, prosecutors and police want to move from one case to the next as quickly as possible.
The truth is that even in a year with fewer violent crimes, Minnesota's justice system-like the nation's-struggles to give everyone a fair shake. You have a right to justice, but that right is only meaningful when you use it. When it's your name and your life on the line, you can't afford to become another statistic.