Increase in thefts pushes Willmar's crime rate up 4 percent

WILLMAR -- An 11.7 percent increase in thefts pushed Willmar's crime rate up 4 percent in 2005, according to preliminary statistics from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

WILLMAR -- An 11.7 percent increase in thefts pushed Willmar's crime rate up 4 percent in 2005, according to preliminary statistics from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

"The whole increase sits right there, and those are car break-ins,'' said Police Chief James Kulset. Thefts rose from 658 in 2004 to 735 in 2005. The items stolen from those vehicles ranged from stereos, CDs and purses to wallets and guns.

Many of those items were sold to buy drugs and alcohol, said Kulset.

"We had three pretty significant rashes of (vehicle break-ins) over the course of 2005,'' he said. "Periodically we'll clear those cases, and our experience is that a lot of it is going towards chemicals: drugs and alcohol.''

The theft statistics are found in Kulset's annual report to the City Council.


The BCA only records the most serious offenses in any of the 26 types of crimes reported for the year. The total rose from 1,934 in 2004 to 2,021 in 2005.

The number of crimes considered more serious -- such as homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, vehicle theft and arson -- increased from 861 in 2004 to 955 in 2005.

The number of crimes considered less serious -- such as misdemeanor assault, forgery, fraud, stolen property, vandalism, driving under the influence and narcotics -- slipped from 1,073 in 2004 to 1,066 in 2005.

The number of crimes considered less serious was down because the department had fewer officers last year to arrest lawbreakers.

"We turned over five officers in 2005,'' he said. "When we have a new officer on field training, that's a two-person vehicle. So really you don't have an additional shift being covered. You can be one to two shifts down for the whole year. That has an effect on miles driven, in number of arrests we make, in the traffic activity.''

Last year's crime rate isn't as high as the 2,342 crimes reported by the BCA in 1996.

The BCA also reports the crime rate per 100,000 residents. Willmar's rate increased from 10,585 in 2004 to 10,831 in 2005. But Kulset said Willmar's rate compares favorably with other outstate regional centers.

"Obviously we would like to have that number lower. But I think in the late '90s and early 2000s, we had a crime rate trend nationwide that trended down. I think we're seeing a turn in that. Some of it is demographics, some of it is economics,'' the chief said.


The rate peaked at 12,544 in 1996, and then fell to 9,861 in 2000. Since then, the rate had trended upward. But the rate may have been skewed by the higher population number used by the BCA during those years. Kulset said he doesn't know where the BCA gets its population information.

In the 1990s, the BCA had Willmar's population at more 19,000; today, it's in the 18,000s, he said.

While some crime was up, other crime was down. Misdemeanor assault fell 11 percent from 152 incidents in 2004 to 135 incidents in 2005. Incidents of driving under the influence were down 7 percent from 114 in 2004 to 106 in 2005.

Liquor law violations continued a five-year decline from 137 in 2001 to 88 in 2005.

Fewer adults and juveniles were arrested in 2005, continuing a downward trend begun in 2002. The report said 1,547 people were arrested in 2002, compared with 1,265 in 2004 and 1,185 in 2005.

The department ended 2005 with 31 officers, down from the authorized force of 32. Since then, the force is up to 33, including an additional officer approved by the council this year.

Kulset said the department responded to 17,051 calls for service compared with 12,563 in 2004. The number is somewhat deceiving because the Records Unit of the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Department adopted a different records management system, he said.

"So it doesn't necessarily count apples to apples like in previous annual reports. But our activity was up in 2005,'' he said.


The report lists 127 categories of calls, among them: thefts, dog and animal complaints, car crashes, alarms, abandoned vehicles, party calls, criminal damage to property, public assists, harassing and threatening behavior, family service complaints, child abuse and neglect, domestics and driving complaints.

The categories with the largest number of calls were property-damage crashes -- 557; dog and animal complaints -- 708; theft -- 956; all other public complaints -- 1,204; and traffic stops -- 4,503.

Kulset said October and November were the busiest months for calls for service.

"That is the first time in the seven years that I have been doing the annual report that we have seen fall months as our busiest,'' he said. "Generally it's July and August.''

Traffic enforcement activity was up about 8 percent from 5,900 contacts in 2004 to more than 6,400 contacts in 2005.

People on Watch volunteers provided more than 800 hours of receptionist duty in 2005.

More on the 2005 annual report and reports going back to 2002 can be viewed at the Willmar Police Department's Web site:

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