WORTHINGTON — Crime across Nobles County has increased slightly within the past year, a trend local law enforcement agencies say may be linked to an increased reported drug abuse rate.

In 2018, Nobles County experienced a crime rate of 3,123 per 100,000 occupants, as reported on an annual Uniform Crime Report released by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The three law enforcement agencies — Nobles County Sheriff’s Office, Worthington and Adrian police departments — collectively achieved a 59% clearance rate (brought for charging) of its 2018 investigations, which outperforms the state average of 48%. The data doesn't reflect possible Minnesota State Patrol investigations within Nobles County.

In 2018, both the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office and Worthington Police Department reported investigating approximately double the amount of drug-related crimes than in 2017. The WPD initiated investigations on 83 reported drug-abuse crimes in 2018, up from 42 in 2017.

Worthington Police Chief Troy Appel said there are more drugs at less expensive prices readily available nationwide. Worthington, where meth appears to be among the most abused drug, is no exception.

“That can lend itself to higher levels of other crimes — the thefts, anything related to addiction, sex assaults — all those can go up because of supply of drugs,” Appel said of nationwide crime trends.

The sheriff office’s reported drug abuse crimes increased from 2017 (12) to 2018 (23).

According to Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening, the increased number stems particularly from more drug-related activity and arrests along Interstate 90 within Nobles County.

While driving under the influence and theft of personal property also remained high, drug abuse crimes across the county in 2018 surpassed DUI crimes for the first time in a five-year history.

Staying steady

Aside from a hike in drug-related offenses, the crime rate remains relatively consistent with the last five years.

As chief, Appel likes to compare crime rates of Minnesota cities with similar populations as Worthington (13,000). In 2017, Worthington had the lowest crime rate among the crop of comparable cities. In 2018, St. Peter knocked Worthington to the No. 2 spot on a list of 11 cities Appel compared in an annual report to the city council, which included Marshall, Fairmont and New Ulm, among others.

“(Our crime rate) speaks to the diligence of our officers, dispatchers, civilians and staff along with commitment of elected officials to our programs, and also reflects how the community is willing to work together,” Appel said. “It goes beyond just our police officers to make Worthington a safe place to live and have the ability to solve crime.”

A positive mark for the sheriff’s office was an improved clearance rate from 2017. The sheriff’s office achieved a 61% clearance rate, up from 57% in 2017.

A full-time investigator and encouraging deputies to make contact with victims to seek more information is making a positive difference, Wilkening said.

Activity in Adrian was minimal in 2018, with just three reported crimes on the UCR.

Previous years’ crime rates across the county totaled 2,808 in 2017; 2,956 in 2016; 3,178 (2015); and 3,273 (2014) per 100,000 inhabitants.

While the annual report is a tool used by many departments, the FBI does urge caution when comparing department data and drawing conclusions. The federal agency indicates that a variety of social factors — from culture, socioeconomic vitality and department resources — can affect crime volume and type in various locations.