Spike in crime? Woodbury police say alerts may distort public's perception of local crime rates

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Will Hunn hadn't thought much about Woodbury crime since moving here nearly 20 years ago.

In the past few months, however, he said crimes like burglaries and mail theft prompted more of his neighbors to install surveillance cameras while others opt to work from home.

"Woodbury's a great place, but it's disconcerting when you have lifetime residents getting security systems," he said.

And the crimes, Hunn said, seem to have escalated.

Woodbury Public Safety recovered six vehicles stolen during a three-week period this fall.

Earlier this month, a Woodbury Public Safety Facebook post asked for neighbors' help identifying a suspect in an attempted burglary — a search for which police dispatched canine units and a Minnesota State Patrol Helicopter.

Woodbury police ultimately determined the incident had been a misunderstanding with a juvenile who flubbed the address for a party and entered a home without knocking.

But Cmdr. Steve Wills said people might have missed his department's concluding message on the case.

Efforts to alert and inform the public, rather than an actual uptick in crime, may affect residents' perspective, Wills said.

"We try and use a lot of our social media outlets and stuff to keep people engaged and put a preventative message out," he said. "People may take that as a huge spike."

Although reported Woodbury burglaries peaked between July and November 2016, reports from this year indicate a more steady pattern.

Police responded to 85 burglary reports this year from Jan. 1 through September, the latest month for which numbers were available. That number reached over 120 during those months in 2016.

Overall, Woodbury Burglary reports have dipped over the past five years, with only a slight increase between from 2015 to 2016.

Other Twin Cities suburbs with populations similar to Woodbury's reported similar declines.

Maple Grove, with a population just over Woodbury's, saw a steady reduction from 167 in 2012 to 93 in 2016.

In Cottage Grove, where the population hits just over half of Woodbury's, burglaries dropped from 118 in 2012 to 64 in 2014, but rose slightly to 95 in 2015 before again slumping to 74 last year.

In Eagan, with a slightly smaller population than Woodbury, burglary reports dropped by about 74 from 2012 to 2017.

Burglary, larceny, robbery and stolen property accounted for 34 percent of total Woodbury crimes in 2016, according to data from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal apprehension.

Those crimes made up 41 percent of totals for that year in both Eagan and Maple Grove, and 27 percent in Cottage Grove.

Still, Hunn worries recent offenses could signal Woodbury as a destination for thefts and burglaries.

"During the summer, you have teenagers doing nonsense," he said. "But, it's been worrisome that these appear to not be Woodbury residents, they appear to be people looking for trouble."

In Woodbury, Wills said, people arrested on suspicion of those offenses typically live outside of Woodbury.

Police here arrested a group of four juveniles in connection with the stix stolen vehicles this fall, Three were from St. Paul and one lived in Inver Grove Heights.

None of the cars recovered from the thefts showed no signs of break-ins or forced ignition.

Wills said this usually means suspects accessed the vehicle through an unlocked door and used the keys to start it.

"We really believe that these people that are doing this are generally lazy," Wills said. "If they go up to a door and pull on a door handle that's locked, they'll move on."

Police Spokeswoman Michelle Okada called these types of vehicle thefts, along with burglary, theft from vehicles and mail theft, "crimes of opportunity."

In suburban cities, Okada said close-together homes and vehicles parks outside can make it easy for suspects to enter several homes and vehicles in a short period of time.

For "crimes of opportunity" like these, Okada said prevention is key.

She offered the following tips to stave off property loss:

• As parcel thefts usually ramp up around the holidays, have packages delivered to an office, workplace or a neighbor's house if they're home. The U.S. Postal Service also offers a stop delivery option for recipients who plan to be away from home for an extended period.

• Keep an eye on neighbors' properties when they go on vacation and offer to help eliminate signs they're not home. Wills said signs like an unshoveled driveway or trash that hasn't been taken to the curb can tip off burglars.

• Close and lock doors to your vehicle, house and garage. "Even when you're home, that's the best practice," Okada said. "We're not seeing a lot of occupied burglaries"

• If you see something out of the ordinary, don't wait to call the police. The shorter the time between a crime and police response, Wills said, the more likely officers can successfully track the culprit.


By the numbers:

Burglaries reported in Woodbury:

2012: 200

2013: 185

2014: 162

2015: 162

2016: 166

Burglaries reported in 2016:

January: 12

February: 16

March: 12

April: 7

May: 4

June: 8

July: 16

August: 25

September: 25

October: 20

November: 19

December: 2

Burglaries reported in 2017:

January: 9

February: 8

March: 15

April: 9

May: 11

June: 8

July: 12

August: 7

September: 6