The difference between perception and reality regarding crime in Rochester

Great turnout last night at the Mayo Civic Center Ballroom for the MPR-Post-Bulletin sponsored community discussion on crime in Rochester. Thanks to everyone who showed up to talk, listen and have a tasty appetizer.

It seems to me, based on the discussion Tuesday night 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 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.

Yet, if meetings like the one last night 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.

But (I know I'm going to be vilified or this. I always am when I bring up the issue of racial diversity.) I can't help but think it also has something to do with the changing "face" 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 to 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 and speak a language other than English when they're talking to family members or friends. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not alleging racism here. I'm just suggesting that 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 why 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 it is now.

I'd be interested to know what you think. Why does there seem to be such a disconnect in our community between perception and statistical reality where crime is concerned?

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