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FBI data: Cerro Gordo violent crimes continue to rise

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Iowa’s homicide rate hit a record high in 2020, according to a report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

There were 111 homicides in Iowa in 2020, according to annual FBI data. That’s a nearly 60% increase from 2019, when Iowa recorded 70. It’s also the largest number of Iowa homicides since the FBI began tracking the statistic in 1979.

The per-capita homicide rate also went up in 2020. There were 3.5 homicide offenses per 100,000 people last year, compared to 2.2 offenses per 100,000 in 2019.

When other violent crimes like rape, robbery and aggravated assault were included in the data, 2020 was the second most violent year in Iowa’s recent history. There were a total of 9,601 violent crimes last year, including murders.

The most violent year was 1995, with a record 10,071 violent crimes. But there were only 51 homicides that year, according to the FBI data.

MCPD 5th and N Penn

A Mason City police officer can be seen placing light markers along the road near the intersection of Fifth Street Northeast and North Pennsylvania Avenue during an apparent investigation in February 2020.

In Cerro Gordo County, there were no homicides in 2020. However, violent crimes continue to be on the rise in the county and its two largest communities.

In the county 15 violent crimes were committed in 2020, and 15 crimes resolved, though they might have been crimes committed in the same year.

Forty percent of Cerro Gordo County's offenders and 33% of the victims were 20-29 years old. Eighty percent of the offenders were male, 73% of the victims were women. Two-thirds of the offenders were white. Over half of the crimes committed -- 53% -- were in a home, and in two-thirds of the cases the victim knew their attacker. In 80 percent of the crimes, no weapon involved.

While the number of violent crimes in Cerro Gordo remain relatively small, they are on the rise, according to the data. Six violent crimes were reported  in 2010 and 15 in 2021, for an overall increase of 150%.

This data is reported by local law enforcement agencies to the National Incident-Based Reporting System.

That is also the case in Mason City, where violent crime has increased more than 200 percent since 2010 and the gap in solving violent crimes has widened. In 2010, 47 violent crimes were reported, and 36 cases were solved. By 2020, that number had grown to 114, with 84 resolved. Crimes are not necessarily solved in the same year they are reported.

The offenders in Mason City last year were slightly older, with nearly a third of the crimes being perpetrated by someone between 30 and 39 years of age. The victims were mostly younger, with 27 percent being 20-29 and 1 in 5 being under 19.

As was the case in Cerro Gordo County, most of the offenders and victims were white - 70 percent in both cases. Fewer than half the cases had no weapon involved -- 40% -- while 75% included a gun. Seventy-nine percent of the offenders in Mason City were male, and 61% of the victims were women.

And Mason City is not alone in the trend of increasing violent crime -- Clear Lake has seen a marked increase as well. It reported zero violent crimes in 2010 but 29 of them in 2020. The city has also seen its solve rate slide, from 100 percent in 2010 (since there were no violent crimes) to 69 percent, or 20 of 29, last year.

Over half -- 58% -- of Clear Lake's violent crimes were done by someone under 29 years old, while nearly a third of the victims were under 19. A quarter of the victims in Clear Lake were 30-39 years old. Ninety-three percent of crimes were done by white people and 83% of the victims were white.  Nearly half the crimes committed used a personal weapon.

As was the case in both Cerro Gordo and Mason City, the vast majority of the violent crimes in Clear Lake committed were by men, 71%. The victims were mostly women, 66% percent.

Homicides, violent crime increases nationally

Murders and other violent crimes increased across the U.S. in 2020. The number of murders increased by nearly 30% in 2020, with 4,901 more cases than in 2019. 

The overall violent crime rate increased by about 5%.

Nationally, homicide rates still remain lower than they did in the early 1990s, when there were about 24,000 murders a year. 

The FBI’s report does not provide analysis or information about why certain crimes become more or less common over time.

Reporter Abby Koch asks Mason City Police Chief Brinkley how community members can take steps to address issues in their own area. 

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. 

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