“Crime in Rapid City is out of control!”

I see this a lot in the comments and posts on various social media apps, and recently shared some thoughts about this mindset. Not to overstate it, but emotion-driven analysis tends to be pretty weak and inaccurate. I’m not a statistician or anything close to a crime data analyst, but at the very least I can present some actual data to inform how we think about crime and how we view crime in our city.

So at least for now, let’s skip hyperbolic, emotional “anecdata” and take a look at the latest we have from the FBI, BJS, RCPD and elsewhere. First, a look at overall crime rate and trends, because people tend to spotlight this and exclude the details.

Quick caveat: it is well known that a lot of crime statistics include only REPORTED crimes. So in reality we expect many of these stats are going to be a lot higher across the board. Data from the NVCS (BJS) tends to be more accurate this way. See the following graph (Fig. A) of all “midwest” crime in 2021…

all crime in midwest, reported or not reported

Fig. A – % of victimizations by crime, showing reported and not reported to police

Overall Crime & Trends

A popular site for comparing crime rates is City Data, which shows crime in Rapid City as “higher than 92.2% of cities,” using their own proprietary “crime index.” I’m not real impressed though, because our little town, at almost 75k, is larger by population than approx. 97% of cities in the US. There are over 19,495 incorporated cities, towns and villages in the United States (in 2018), and Rapid City is around #479 (at 70k in 2013).

In my opinion we have the crime rate one should expect from a growing city of this size which sits on a major interstate and features colleges, universities, a nearby Airforce base, and heavy tourist traffic. Frankly I’m amazed it isn’t higher.

That being said, the crime rate in South Dakota is obviously higher year over year based on the latest available federal data from 2020 (Fig. B):

crime rate trend in Rapid City

Fig. B – Crime rate from 2010-2020, US and South Dakota

Yet if we look at the latest “violent crime report” (Fig. C) from RCPD (which obviously has problems, and is a major step down from their much more useful “crime analysis report”), we can see reported crime in Rapid City went down overall from 2020 (4523) to 2021 (3821). The only categories that climbed significantly and consistently were homicide and vehicle theft (and maaaaybe ag-assault). We might expect the same trend in the chart above once that data for ’21 becomes available.

violent crime report 20201 Rapid City Police Department

Fig. C – RCPD violent crime stats 2014-2021

Additionally, if you look at the historical trend back to the 90’s – leaving aside changes in reporting and classification – overall crime is lower than it used to be. So let’s look at specifics and see what we can learn.

Over 50% of the victims of violent crime in Rapid City were 20-39 years old.

Fig. D –  Over 50% of the victims of violent crime in Rapid City were 20-39 years old. – FBI Crime Data Explorer as reported by RCPD in 2020.

Age of Victim

This is one I think of often, especially when parents bring their kids in for self-defense classes and then go run errands or sit and watch. I’m not trying to shame anyone here – every adult gets to make their own decisions. I’m just pointing out some data – in this case the data (Fig. D) says the over 50% of crime in Rapid City involved a victim aged 20-39 years old.

Self defense for kids is a great idea, because obviously this stuff is happening to them, too. But the majority is happening to adults from college age to middle age (young parents included).

Yet this is the smallest age group across all of our classes. To be fair, it’s also arguably the busiest age group. But perhaps that’s one of the factors in the crime stats as well.

The NCVS seems to bear this out as well in the greater midwest region. Their age groups are more varied, but you can still recognize the pattern (Fig. E). The youngest group does seem to suffer more in the simple assault category, which I assume includes school fights and such.

midwest vic rate by age

Fig. E – Rate of victimization by category and age, 2021

weapons used in Rapid City crime

Fig. F – As usual the most frequently used weapon in violent crime is the human body. – FBI Crime Data Explorer as reported by RCPD in 2020.

Weapon Involved

This shows the top weapons involved in violent crime in Rapid City as reported by RCPD in 2020 (Fig. F). As usual the top “weapon” used is the body, which I expect means unarmed – punches, kicks, chokes, etc…

At The Forge, we talk about stats like this one a lot because it helps us prioritize our training. If fully a quarter of violent attacks are happening with an edged weapon, we should probably spend some time defending against that kind of threat.

Now for the firearms community, that top stat should trip you up. Almost 40% of violent attacks in our area involves nothing but hands? For the most part that means you’re unlikely to be justified to draw your weapon.

We should probably know how to fight with our hands.

Not only that, but now YOU are introducing deadly force to what was otherwise a non-deadly-force encounter if you happen to be carrying a firearm in this situation. Think we need to know how to best conceal, retain, and fight to this tool?

location of crime

Fig. G – Almost half of crimes in Rapid City are happening in a private residence. – FBI Crime Data Explorer as reported by RCPD in 2020.

Location of Crime

There’s some things to think about here as well (Fig. G). Now look, they’re not breaking down this category of “Residence Home.” Do we know if the crime happened inside or outside the home? The garage? A parked vehicle? Is it domestic violence? This was, after all, the beginning of the Cxxxd lockdowns for many areas.

There’s probably some of all of that, but I think what we can take away from this is that “street” crime (the stuff typically happening in transitional spaces) is still relatively low in Rapid City. For example if you look at the same graph from Denver, “Residence” drops to 35% and “Street” rises to 32%. Maybe that’s not a fair comparison, but I’ve said before that we can see our future by looking at cities like Denver and Minneapolis (which is even worse, “Street” is on top with over 50%).

So compared to bigger cities, we’re still pretty mild, even though we have had an uptick in homicides. I wonder where those perps came from.

crime victim relationship

Fig. H – Most attackers in our area are unknown or not well-known to the victim. – FBI Crime Data Explorer as reported by RCPD in 2020.

Victim-Offender Relationship

Here is another graph (Fig. H) that does not follow national trends or reflect what you see in big cities: “Unknown.”

Weird. Maybe because perps aren’t getting caught.

So “stranger danger” is still kind of a thing for us here in Rapid City. I guess that somewhat addresses the domestic violence question above. There’s definitely still some of that, but 30% stangers is pretty big.

So again, prioritizing training; based on the above two graphs, we probably need to be prioritizing home security and defense first (even in the context of domestics), and random street encounters after that.

It Ain’t That Bad

So yeah, some things are getting worse. And in other ways we’re just noticing more. Everyone has Ring doorbells now, and other video surveillance, so we’re catching all the stuff we never say before. It may seem like a lot, but I hope I’ve shown above that we’re really not in the jungle quite yet.

Give it ten years. And hopefully you’re using that decade to prepare, train and plan. And to the people who say “I’m going to move out of town,” just consider a couple things. One, the more good people who do that, the faster the shadow darkens this town. Two, the folks already out in the sticks? They don’t want you there anymore than you want urban transplants here. It’s all relative, and at some point good people are just going to have to stand their ground.

Light the forge.