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Woodbury crime goes under the microscope

Woodbury police officer Tom Ehrenberg speaks with Woodbury residents Feb. 25 at a breakout session during a meeting at the Public Safety Building that examined local crime. (Staff photo by Mike Longaecker)

Yes, crime happens in Woodbury and it’s true that the city is not immune to what happens in the urban core.

But if you think burglars are coming to Woodbury by the busload, you are mistaken.

That was the message Woodbury Public Safety Department leaders shared last week during a community meeting to address local crime issues.

The meeting served a dual purpose – to both quell rumors of rampant burglaries and to talk frankly about the crime that does occur in Woodbury, and how to deal with it when it happens.

“You cannot be impervious to burglaries,” Woodbury Public Safety Chief Lee Vague told the group of about 30 neighborhood and association leaders. “The best defense you have is each other.”

He talked at length about perceptions surrounding crime in Woodbury. In most cases, the facts present a picture that is much less prolific than the perceptions surrounding them that have been spreading among neighbors.

For resident Tom Tibbetts, who admitted his “antenna’s been up a little more” lately after a spate of mail thefts in the city, the meeting reinforced what he already suspected.

“I think we live in a very, very safe community,” the Wedgewood Golf Villas resident said.

Police combed through various statistics comparing 2012 data to 2013. Occurrences went down in 2013 among thefts, burglaries, motor vehicle thefts, arson and rape. Aggravated assault numbers climbed by 27 percent, while robbery stats remained flat, according to city data.

All lower-level crimes – disorderly conduct and property damage, for example – declined during the two-year span, according to the data. Of those crimes, the only category to see an increase was DWI arrests, which rose from 133 to 142.

Still, Vague admitted that no statistic can provide solace when crime strikes close to home.

“If something’s happening in your neighborhood, it’s scary,” he told the audience.

But while last year’s numbers showed an overall decline, police made clear there’s no reason to believe crime is going away in Woodbury. That’s why Vague had attendees fan out into groups to meet with officers who patrol their respective quadrants of the city.

Officers and residents went over neighborhood-level crime data. Neighbors shared what they’ve been hearing, while officers filled them in on what kinds of calls they’ve been responding to.

Later, the group heard about things happening outside the residential area.

Officer Adam Sack told attendees about operations the force has been doing in the city’s retail district.

Sack said one effort has involved staging a plain-clothes officer in the Walmart parking lot. That officer maintained phone contact with loss-prevention staff at the store, so when Walmart security saw a shoplifter in action, the officer knew just who to look for walking out the door.

That operation generated 11 arrests in seven hours, Sack said.

“The convenience factor brings people to town,” he said, noting that the nearby interstate access makes Woodbury stores an attractive target to criminals.

Sack said it’s not uncommon now for gang members to turn to retail theft for funding over drug sales. Criminals will often load up carts with merchandise that can be easily pawned or sold on the black market, and then push them out the door to a waiting vehicle.

Officials at the meeting also urged attendees to exchange accurate information after crime happens, in hopes of stemming rumors that can spin out of control. Police leaders encouraged neighborhood leaders to hold regular gatherings where information can be shared and to participate in communitywide events like National Night to Unite.

Vague and others also pointed to new crime tracking technology that could go live as soon as this summer. The new system, hosted at, will provide near real-time tracking of criminal activity through a mapping-based program.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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