Unreported crime presents incomplete picture for police

A new survey reveals that a significant proportion of crime in Minnesota goes unreported. Crime is reportedly down, but the results make it clear that the police record is incomplete.

In a survey of 6,000 Minnesotans, respondents listed numerous crimes that they didn't report to police, including sexual assaults, domestic violence and burglaries. Women had the highest rates of unreported crimes in the survey.

Unreported crime isn't new. Although the survey indicates crime rates that contrast the official numbers which show reported crime are down, it does not indicate rates of unreported crime that are dramatically different from past surveys.

Preliminary state 2010 crime victim survey numbers show:

Twelve percent reported being stalked. Of those, 19 percent reported the activity to police.

Nine percent of the respondents reported unauthorized use of their credit or debit cards. Of those, 19 percent reported the theft.

Seven percent of those surveyed identified themselves as victims of a scam or a fraud. Of those, 19 percent were reported.

Among those surveyed, 75 percent who were victims of aggravated assault or a "stickup" or a robbery reported the incident.

Nearly three-fourths of motor vehicle theft victims reported the crime.

Overall, however, Minnesota's reported crime rate in 2010 was down nearly 3 percent from the year before.

Some crimes are reported more frequently, such as aggravated assault or car theft, because a police report is needed to file an insurance claim, said Danette Buskovick, who directs training, research and communication for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. She just finished sorting through the crime victim surveys.

Buskovick believes the onerous process the victim faces and the low conviction rate of perpetrators contributes to the low rate of reporting domestic violence and sexual assaults.

"I would assume people are thinking along those terms that this is a very painful process, a very humiliating process," Buskovick said. "Our criminal justice system does not move swiftly and it might be better to put all that aside and get on with your life than face a very uncertain outcome."

Most worrisome to researchers is the number of unreported violent crimes against women.

One percent of respondents indicated they were victims of domestic abuse, said Liz Peterson, director of research and planning for the Greater Twin Cities United Way. The organization helped analyze the survey data.

However, more than two-thirds of the incidents were not reported to police, Peterson said.

"The main reasons were, 'I didn't want my partner to get arrested, I didn't think the abuse was bad enough to warrant reporting to the police,' and a substantial portion also said they didn't report it because they thought the abuse was their fault," Peterson said.

Almost 600 respondents said they were the victims last year of credit card or debit card theft, Buskovick said.

"Only 19 percent of those people said they actually contacted the police when that happened," Buskovick said.

Buskovick recalled her own personal experience.

"Someone got a hold of my debit card number and made some purchases in Florida," Buskovick said. "And I never called the police. Because when I called my bank to fix the problem they said, 'We will never find out who did it.' And it didn't even dawn on me to call the police."

The frequency of unreported burglary and some other property crimes ranged from a third to a half.

Police can't guarantee a satisfactory outcome to all crime victims, and one reason victims don't report crime is they believe it can't be solved or they regard the loss as unimportant, Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom said.

Advocates hope they will be able to change that.

A meeting Tuesday in Minneapolis will address how to reduce the high rate of unreported domestic violence in Minnesota. The meeting is sponsored by the Greater Twin Cities United Way and will be hosted at 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Radisson Plaza Minneapolis Hotel, 35 S. 7th St., Minneapolis, 55402. There is no charge to attend the event.

"By sweating the small stuff [it] shows that we care about our neighborhood," Bostrom said. "And when you care about your neighborhood, folks that would want to commit crime say, 'This isn't a place where I can get away with it.' "

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The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's 2010 crime summary reported violent crime in the state — murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery — declined nearly 3 percent from the previous year. Reported property crimes — burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson — were down 2.5 percent.

Violent crime in Minnesota accounted for 9 percent of all crime index offenses reported in 2010. There were 12,661 murders, forcible rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults for the year. The 2010 figure represents a 2.9 percent decrease in violent crime for the state from the previous year, the bureau said.

The bureau also reported that property crime in Minnesota amounted to 91 percent of the crime index offenses in 2010. The year's reported total of 134,636 burglaries, larcenies, motor vehicle thefts, and arsons represents a decrease of 2.5 percent in property crime for the state.

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