When Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate tells people Shakopee crime is down by more than eight percentage points since 1998, they don’t believe him.
With crime often in the headlines and a Facebook group jumping on every burglary or crash that happens, it can seem like there’s more crime than there is, he said.
And a survey released June 7 by the National Citizen Survey revealed a red-flag statistic for the Shakopee Police Department: 36 percent of people who live in Shakopee don’t feel safe, in comparison to the last survey in 2016, which showed only 11 percent of Shakopee residents didn’t feel safe.
The survey put Shakopee near the bottom of the 18 comparable metro cities that also participated in the survey in terms of feeling safe. But Shakopee’s crime and case clearance rates show Shakopee is right in the middle among those cities.
And according to the police department’s 2018 annual report, Shakopee’s crime rate is actually going down.
“We’re not crime free,” Tate said. “We have issues… but we’re not circling the drain, either.”
According to department statistics, in 1998, Shakopee’s population was half what it is now, with half the police force, and it had 7,042 more Part I and Part II crimes, which account for all reported crimes.
The crime rate in Shakopee, which is the number of crimes per 100,0000 people, was 14 percent in 1998. In 2018, the crime rate was 6.4 percent.
Tate said social media inflates people’s perceptions of crime in the community.
“Ten, 15 years ago, if there was a crime on your block, somebody had something stolen out of their garage, you probably didn’t hear about it,” Tate said. “Now you’re probably on a neighborhood Facebook group and they post about it. Or they put it on a public Facebook site and talk about it. So everything’s more in front of you instantly.”
For example, earlier this year, a false report of a sexual assault involving a juvenile was posted on the Concerned Citizens of Shakopee Facebook page. Tate said in those situations, the police department is very limited in what it’s going to say until the investigation is over.
“I think it’s important that when bad things happen you talk about it,” Tate said, “but it’s hard to keep up with the rumor mill. I think the numbers and the graphs speak for themselves. We are a safe community.”
Tate also thinks crime is emphasized more in the Shakopee Valley News than in other communities, and that social media posts about Shakopee in general are “inherently negative.”
Shakopee also ranked low in residents’ perceptions of the community as a whole, with 48 percent of residents saying Shakopee has a positive image, while 80 percent of residents would recommend living in Shakopee.
Former Mayor and now state Rep. Brad Tabke knows all about the gap between Shakopee residents’ perception of the city versus the city’s reality. He said it’s important for people to be responsible with what’s shared on social media.
“There’s a difference between making people sure they’re aware of break-ins in a neighborhood and extrapolating that across the community to say this city isn’t safe,” Tabke said.
What residents say
Shakopee Librarian Stacy Shrader has lived in Shakopee 26 years, and said she’s never felt unsafe. In fact, up until last year, she and her husband used to leave for work with the door unlocked because her neighbors look out for each other. If someone sees an unfamiliar car lingering in the neighborhood, they let each other know.
“If you’re taking part of the solution, maybe you think it’s safer and better,” Shrader said. “Awareness helps you take precautions. I think that’s a good thing.”
The Valley News recently asked readers on Facebook, “Do you feel safe living in Shakopee?” Most responses were positive.
Libby Bergen responded, saying, “I’ve lived here about 30 years. We have excellent police and fire departments. I have never observed or experienced a personally frightening or threatening situation. To me, the community feels safe and inclusive.” She also admitted she probably has “rose-colored glasses and white privilege.”
Jennifer Anderson said, like any town, there are pockets that feel less safe than others. But big-picture, she feels safe in Shakopee.
“But having teens, who are more independent, I still wouldn’t let my kids bike across town on their own or near the busy main streets. I’ve seen kids get hit and many near missed,” she wrote.
Sara Mather’s comment, which garnered 10 likes, said “I wouldn’t call it unsafe but I don’t feel as safe as I did growing up. Sometimes it seems like everybody is so obsessed with growth that they don’t consider the type of people that come with growth.”
Tate said people assume because the population has increased, so has the crime rate.
“Because we’re a growing community, people think crime is going up,” he said. “We forget how violent some of the years in the ‘90s were.”
Shrader and Tate said community outreach is the key to helping residents feel safe, and they believe it’s what the Shakopee Police Department does best.
“It’s not just about throwing cops in an area and saturating it,” Tate said. “It’s how you engage with the public and build that trust and work together to problem-solve.”
Mark Spanton, the crime prevention chair on the Shakopee Crime Prevention Board, wants residents to know they’re safe on the roads. So the board started a Sober and Safe ride program, which provides free sober rides on holidays in Shakopee.
The board also puts out radar signs to keep speeding down in neighborhoods that request it.
“Our key message is: Is there anything we can do to make your neighborhood safer?” Spanton said.
According to the citizen survey, 93 percent of residents feel safe in their neighborhood, but only 64 percent of residents feel safe in greater Shakopee.
Tate said that’s probably because of the influx of people who come into Shakopee, especially in the summer, to visit attractions like Valleyfair and Canterbury Park.
“Most of the people we arrest are not from Shakopee,” Tate said. “And I think that speaks to how safe neighborhoods are.”
Tate said the police department needs to be better at getting statistics and numbers in front of Shakopee residents to show them how safe the community is.
“Shakopee’s not going to hell,” Tate said.