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Property crimes dominate Duluth data

Gordon Ramsay recalled the time, as a boy, that he left his banana-seat Huffy bicycle unattended in the yard. It was stolen and lost for good.

He learned the hard way to protect his belongings.

It’s a lesson people are still learning today. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s 2013 Crime Information report was released last week, and it revealed what Ramsay and his Duluth Police Department already knew: Property crimes dominate the city’s crime data.

“Property crimes right now are high across the state and that’s where our focus is right now,” said Ramsay, Duluth’s chief of police.

Of the nearly 4,500 arrests in Duluth in 2013, more than 20 percent were for the property theft-related crimes of burglary, robbery, larceny, motor-vehicle theft and stolen property. Those numbers diminish for the

St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, which saw just 13 percent of its roughly 1,000 arrests as the result of property-theft crimes. This sort of annual data, while welcome, is not as important for policing as it once might have been, as Duluth police constantly infuse real-time data into their regular routine.

“We don’t look at this once a year,” Ramsay said. “We look at certain key crimes every day. We have a weekly CompStat meeting. Those are our barometers.”

CompStat maps crimes in an effort to identify problems. Last month, there were a series of thefts from vehicles parked outside downtown hotels. People lost iPads and other valuables.

In cases like those, criminals are looking for the people who let their guard down. People also take it for granted that crime is a nighttime problem. Ramsay cited an internal figure that 20 percent of Duluth residents feel unsafe downtown after dark. But the BCA numbers show that most property crimes happen during daylight hours.

“Theft from automobiles is by far our most common crime,” Ramsay said. “Trailheads are a great spot for criminals to hunt for valuables.”

When the police identify a problem area, it often increases not just patrols but traffic stops. That’s another thing the department has learned through data collection — that an increase in traffic stops in an area correlates with a drop in crime in that area. Last year, Duluth police made 20,000 traffic stops.

“In hot spots, it has an impact,” Ramsay said. “We notice crimes go down. Cops count.”

Still, when it comes to property theft, an individual’s own diligence is the best defense.

“A lot of it is preventable — doors unlocked, keys in the car, stuff sitting out, newspapers building up in the mailbox,” Ramsay said.

For the county at large, property-theft crimes, while always a concern, are no more discernable than any other crime.

“Car prowling is not as large a factor as it is for the city of Duluth,” Sheriff Ross Litman said. “It’s not as much of an issue in rural areas.”

Litman said he appreciates the data for its importance in comparing across the years, which helps to shape the department’s budgeting. As far as data, he prefers the “living data” he gets from his deputies out on patrol.

“We certainly don’t ignore the data,” he said. “But more important is what we gain each and every time our officers are on patrol.”   

He said narcotics — in particular, the rising heroin influence in the county — is what alarms him.

“It’s having a detrimental, even fatal, effect,” he said. “That’s caught my attention.”

Among the other Duluth and county highlights from the voluminous BCA report:

Duluth’s murders are so few and far between that “anything that happens is big news,” said Ramsay, whose department responded to two murders in 2013 and none so far in 2014.

Of the 240 arrests for driving under the influence in 2013, only one resulted in fatality. “We’d have six or seven deaths a year a recently as a few years ago,” Ramsay said. “It tells you a lot more people are taking cabs.”

Auto theft numbers (156 in 2013) are similar to the 1950s. That’s a good thing, Ramsay said. The 1970s were the apex for auto theft, with roughly 1,000 per year.

Arrest rates for crimes are relatively skewed as Duluth is operating with a clearance system Ramsay said is cumbersome and in need of replacement (hopefully in 2016, he said).

Finally, violent crimes and downtown policing are two emphasis points for Duluth police. Downtown offers a lot of “nuisance behavior” that hurts the perception of downtown, Ramsay said. “Violent crimes are our No. 1 concern and fortunately we live in a community that’s very safe.”

Litman agreed with Ramsay, saying, “Although chiefs and sheriffs can’t ignore the trends in property crimes like theft and burglary, the true measure of how safe our communities are is measured in the violent crime categories.” St. Louis County deputies responded to zero murders outside Duluth in 2013.

The report

To view the entire report go to