Does the downturn in the economy lead to crime going up? The St. Paul Pioneer Press says that burglary rose 9 percent in St. Paul in 2008 compared with the previous year but dropped by the same amount in Minneapolis. “It’s just not predictable,” said Margaret Jensen, a Hamline University professor of sociology and criminal justice. “We’re better at trying to explain what’s already happened. You would probably have to go two to three years out before we would start to see a pattern.” Crime rates during the Great Depression were low and, in the decades that followed, haven’t “smoothly followed the ups and downs in the economy,” Jensen said.
The uncertainty comes at a time when the budgets of police departments and victim-services agencies are feeling the pinch. Drastic cuts are proposed in St. Paul city services to fill a $44 million budget hole over the next two years. A “worst-case scenario” for the police department could mean 118 fewer officers – 51 through not filling vacant positions and 67 layoffs. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the federal stimulus package saved his city 57 police officers and 27 firefighters for at least a year. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is to make a proposal to the city council in mid-March – and staffers are trying to figure out how many police and firefighter jobs might be saved, at least for a year, through the stimulus package. Coleman has said he hopes to minimize layoffs.