Crime rates reflect police focus

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South Washington County

Crime rates were down last year across Minnesota and Washington County, though state statistics showed increased crime in south Washington County cities.

All area cities except St. Paul Park reported a higher overall crime rate, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's annual report.

The crime rate describes the number of crimes per 100,000 inhabitants of an area. The 2015 crime rate for Cottage Grove was 6,092; 7,999 for St. Paul Park; 10,723 for Newport and 5,237 for Woodbury.

By comparison, 2014 crime rates were 5,806 for Cottage Grove; 10,384 for St. Paul Park; 9,950 for Newport; and 4,580 for Woodbury.

The crime rate for Washington County was 6,083, down from 6,197 in 2014.

Cottage Grove Public Safety Director Craig Woolery said that the increase was "not enough of an impact that it's been a noticeable change."

Police Capt. Pete Koerner said that increased numbers can be misleading, because it can often mean that a department is concentrating more on a crime, leading to increased arrests. It could also come from a single incident.

"It could look like we've had a huge spike, but in reality it could have just been two people," he said.

Larceny was the highest reported crime in south Washington County last year, as well as across the state. Koerner said the Cottage Grove Police Department was concentrating on larceny and burglary crimes in 2015, which is one reason the numbers increased.

"The numbers have actually gone up, but in actuality that's where we've been concentrating our efforts," Koerner said.

He also said that with more industry, rates can rise.

"We're going to see an increase just because we're growing," he said. "Large commercial properties are a good thing but bring negatives as well."

Disorderly conduct and vandalism were the second- and third-highest reported crimes in Cottage Grove, Newport and Woodbury; St. Paul Park reported narcotics and assault.

Felony and misdemeanor domestic assaults were up from 63 in 2014 to 84 total in 2015, but this is another category that Koerner said the department is concentrating on.

"A number that will continue to grow is reported domestic assaults, with the amount of emphasis our department is putting on domestic abuse," he said. "It's always been difficult to get victims to report the crime, but the more our officers are educating, the arrests are going up and the amount of reports are going up."

"While you never want to see the numbers going up, it also demonstrates some of the success of the program," he added.

There was no murder or manslaughter reported in south Washington County. Three rapes were reported in Newport and Cottage Grove, one in St. Paul Park and four in Woodbury.

Overall, the number of violent crimes in Cottage Grove decreased from 2014.

Robbery, burglary, larceny and stolen property cases numbered 634 in Cottage Grove, 95 in St. Paul Park, 81 in Newport and 1,232 in Woodbury.

There were 117 reported aggravated and other assaults in Cottage Grove, 51 in St. Paul Park, 53 in Newport and 111 in Woodbury. Numbers of assaults increased in each city except St. Paul Park, more than doubling in Newport.

There were 122 drug offenses Cottage Grove, 143 in Woodbury, 8 in Newport, and 56 in St. Paul Park.

Drug charges remained flat across the state, other than a steep rise in "other drugs," which includes methamphetamine.

Drunken driving cases reached 116 in Cottage Grove last year, 35 in St. Paul Park, 28 in Newport and 216 in Woodbury. DUI offenses were up in Cottage Grove and Woodbury.

Cases of motor vehicle theft numbered 34 in Cottage Grove, 11 in St. Paul Park and Newport and 54 in Woodbury.

Human Trafficking cases numbered seven in Woodbury last year and one in Cottage Grove.

Embezzlement and prostitution were reported only in Woodbury; three and two cases respectively.

Another part Koerner said the department has decided to focus on are what's known as "livability issues," and include things such as speeding vehicles or barking dogs.

"It's the direction the council and department decided to focus on," he said.