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Crime is a concern that deserves a community effort

Here's a question for you. What's more important — perception or reality, where serious crime in our community is concerned?

There was a great turnout, more than 200 people, Tuesday night at the Mayo Civic Center Ballroom for the Post-Bulletin-MPR News sponsored community discussion on crime in Rochester. It seems to me, based on that discussion and on previous news stories and neighborhood meetings on this topic, that Rochester is facing a bewildering conundrum.

The crime rate has actually fallen here over the past decade, or is, at worst, flat. In fact, according to Police Chief Roger Peterson the number of "serious crimes" — murders, armed robberies, sexual assaults, aggravated assaults, etc., in Rochester dropped from 3,500 in 1975 to 2,700 in 2010. This, despite the fact that our population has doubled in the last 35 years.

Not only that, but our city's violent crime rate is dramatically lower than the national average for cities of comparable size, and the number of police officers we have on the streets per capita is much higher than it is in those same cities.

Rising concern


Yet, if meetings like the one Tuesday are any indication, there seems to me much more concern about crime in our community than there ever has been in the past.

This is in part, as Chief Peterson noted, because violent crime seems to be more out in the open these days, with drive-by shootings and gang fights in public places such as the county fair and at Rochesterfest events.

However, I can't help but think it also has something to do with the changing complexion of Rochester. Our population has become increasingly diverse in recent years. As Chief Peterson noted Tuesday night, a large number of the people who have come to our community in recent years help account for the population increase are people from racial minority groups. He noted that more than 10 percent of our population speaks a first language other than English.

And, it's human nature. People often don't feel as safe around those who don't look or dress like they do. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not alleging racism here. I'm just suggesting that it might be one of the reasons there has been such a clamor over the past year or two for increased police protection. It might be one reason people don't FEEL as safe as they did before, even though, statistically, we're actually safer now than we were 30 years ago when our city was half the size.

What are the solutions?

Based on the discussion at Tuesday's event, there seems to be disagreement about the cause — and solutions — to the gang problem in Rochester. One man suggested that drugs and alcohol are at the root of most crime problems.

"There's a genetic background to this," he said. "Somehow, we have to say, 'how are we going to deal with drugs and alcohol?...People are killing each other to get them."

Others said more parental control is key. Still others said schools can play a bigger role in helping kids stay out of trouble.


After talking to a number of young people who have been involved in and around gangs for our special report a week ago, I've come to believe that all of these folks are right. Drugs and alcohol often do play a role. Many parents could be more involved with their kids. And there's more that schools could do — provided they had the funds to add, rather than cut, school counseling positions.

But this has to be a COMMUNITY effort. We all have to be involved — school, churches, neighborhood groups, individuals. All of us.

"To break that destructive cycle, you need to have a full network around you," said Larry Orth, a pastor at Calvary Evangelical Church who formerly worked in the federal prison system. His church is involved in a program called Bridge Builders for Kids that helps children who have a parent in prison."


Children of prisoners are higher at risk in terms of repeating the crimes of their fathers than anyone. Just by having a mentor, it's amazing how that reduces the likelihood of having a child repeat that behavior."

If you're interested in getting involved, check out the news story on page A3 this past Monday. (It's also online at Postbulletin.com.) It lists groups and programs aimed at vulnerable young people that could use some volunteer help.

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