BCA report: Minnesota's violent crime steady in 2016

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota's annual statewide crime statistics, released this week, reveal no big changes in the overall violent crime rate. But they do report a record-tying year of fatal police shootings, and a striking jump in sex-trafficking arrests in 2016.

Violent crimes — including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults — increased 0.9 percent last year compared with the previous year, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The BCA tracks data reported to it directly from the state's law enforcement agencies.

The murder rate actually dropped from 130 in 2015 to 100 last year, but that comes after a significant increase from 82 murders in 2014. The drop in the murder rate was offset by a slight — roughly 1 percent — increase in rapes and aggravated assaults last year.

"It really mimics what we see nationally; it ticks up and down but by and large it's been decreasing," said Ebony Ruhland, a researcher with the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota.

State law enforcement officials made a point to note that reported cases of human trafficking jumped to 235 in 2016, from 119 the previous year, and 38 in 2014 — the first full year such crimes were reported following federal legislation passed in 2008.

Prior to 2014, such crimes were reported as prostitution.

All but a few of the trafficking cases involve instances where "a person was induced by fraud or coercion to participate in commercial sex acts, or in which the person induced to perform such act(s) has not attained 18 years of age," the BCA said.

But the BCA noted those statistics also include sting operations in which police pose as minors to attract sexual predators, and "a real victim does not exist."

When asked about possible reasons for the marked increase, BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveira said "a great majority is due to the sting operations."

"A lot of money has been put into human trafficking, both at the federal and state level," Ruhland said. "There's been a lot of increased awareness of it and attention on it."

The BCA also reported a significant jump in law enforcement pursuits resulting in fatalities from crashes: eight last year, compared with three or fewer in each of the four previous years.

No Minnesota law enforcement officials were killed in the line of duty in 2016.

When it comes to police shootings, there were 13 people killed by law enforcement "firearms discharges" in 2016, according to the data. That ties the previous year, which had the most since records started being kept; the data was first available in 1978.

The previous records were set in 2009 and 2010, when 11 people were fatally shot by police. The interim low was in 2014, when seven people were killed.

Property crimes — such as theft, burglary and arson — showed a roughly 4 percent drop last year. Arson cases, in particular, came in at a notable five-year low, with 497 last year — the tail-end of a steady and consistent five-year decline, with 748 arsons reported in 2012.

Finally, "bias-motivated" crimes — in which a person is targeted because of race, age or sexual orientation — jumped from 96 in 2015 to 122 last year, though that number is far shy of totals in some recent years, including 175 in 2012 and 154 in 2013.

By far the largest tally in that category, roughly half, are crimes that target people over race, with the huge majority of victims targeted because they were either black or white.

Last year, the proportion of people targeted for being black (64, a five-year low) was roughly equal to those targeted for being white (65), according to the BCA data. That roughly equal proportion is similar to crime rates several years ago, but is a significant proportional difference from 2015, when 70 people were targeted for being black, and 51 were targeted for being white.

As with all previous state crime reports, the numbers are not always complete, as individual law enforcement agencies sometimes do not report their data.