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Violent crime increased dramatically last year across Minnesota, which saw a record number of murders, the highest number of bias crimes in 15 years and a record number of assaults against on-duty police officers.

The number of murders hit 185 last year, up 58% from 117 in 2019, according to a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension report released Tuesday.

Minneapolis police investigated 82 of last year's murder cases and St. Paul police 32, according to the agency's 2020 Uniform Crime Report. Bloomington and Rochester police each investigated five.

Overall, the rate of violent crimes increased by 16.6% compared with 2019.

Reports of robberies were up 26% to 3,885, and aggravated assaults increased 22% to 8,203 between 2019 and 2020. Arson cases and car thefts also jumped. Rapes decreased 9% to 2,222 last year, according to the report. The surge of violence came amid a year marked by economic uncertainty during the pandemic and unrest after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Staffing and morale problems have plagued the Police Department in Minnesota's largest city.

Minnesota Republicans swiftly criticized Democrats, saying the numbers portray them as not being tough enough on crime.

"Today's report confirms what we've been talking about for several years at the Senate: Violent criminals are finding more victims and lenient accountability measures in the judicial system are not keeping people safe," said Senate Public Safety and Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, released a similar statement and outlined proposals by the House GOP to mitigate violent crime that include bringing in the Minnesota State Patrol to high-risk areas of Minneapolis, increasing the police force and expanding the use of ShotSpotter technology.

Overall, bias-motivated crime increased 53% to 223, the highest in 15 years, with 41% motivated by anti-Black bias.

Of those reports, 27 were investigated by Minneapolis police, 35 by St. Paul police and 19 by Roseville police.

The report also said bias crimes increased most dramatically for Minnesota's Black population, growing 88%. For Asian Americans, the number of instances increased from one in 2019 to 11 in 2020.

The numbers in the report and the accounts of violent crimes may be underreported, said local civil rights activist the Rev. Jerry McAfee, who started a community patrol group in north Minneapolis to combat crime after a rash of shootings that killed two children this year.

"Some don't think nothing else will change or happen — so they don't say something," he said. "There's a whole lot more fights that go on that never get reported — attacks, rapes that never get reported."

The Rev. Jerry McAfee, shown earlier this summer speaking  to a group of Catholic priests at George Floyd square in Minneapolis.
The Rev. Jerry McAfee, shown earlier this summer speaking to a group of Catholic priests at George Floyd square in Minneapolis.

Carlos Gonzalez - Star Tribune

The increase in crime stems from a number of issues, and the patrol group also aims to lift people out of poverty by connecting them with jobs and housing resources.

"When you have a police force operating 200 under, the distrust some of the people have with the police department, some good, some bad, and the overall level of trauma that exists within our community, it's rough out here," McAfee said.

The report said assaults on police officers increased 62% to 667, according to the BCA. There were no officer fatalities in 2020.

The "weapons" most used to assault police were hands, fists and feet in nearly 600 instances. Firearms were used in 38 incidents to assault officers.

Law enforcement officers shot at 31 people, an increase of six compared with 2019, according to the BCA report. The agency also reported 45 use-of-force incidents. In those incidents, 21 of those involved were white, 14 Black, three American Indian, three Asian and five with race unknown or not reported.

Ten people were killed by law enforcement officers in 2020, including George Floyd, according to Star Tribune records. Nine people have been killed by police so far this year.