Lalley: Crime in Sioux Falls isn't as bad as you think it is

"What we believe to be true can overshadow the actual statistics."

Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum presents the city's 2022 crime statistics at the Sioux Falls Law Enforcement Center on Tuesday, March 7, 2023.
Hunter Dunteman / Sioux Falls Live

SIOUX FALLS — Perception is more powerful than statistics.

As human beings, what we believe is true can drown the facts.

It’s not our fault really. Baked into our psyche is the need to make snap decisions based on circumstances. The residue of the survival instinct where a slow reaction to a threat — lions, tornadoes or an enemy spear — could be fatal.

In modern life it shows up in all sorts of ways, from holding firm to first impressions of a new coworker to conspiracy theories and political movements.

For those of us living in the Best Little City in America, the best example is crime.


The perception is that, as the city has grown, crime has become a menacing beast crouched in a dark corner ready to pounce upon unsuspecting Sioux Fallsians.

It’s why we don’t like parking ramps. Who knows who is hiding under those cars, right?

That’s perception, not reality.

Violent crime rate was flat last year and lower than the 2020 spike. The police chief says he’s “pleased,” but not happy with the overall state of public safety in the city.

The city of Sioux Falls released the crime data for 2022 at a news conference on Tuesday, March 7.

The big picture is that violent crime is pretty steady.

NOTE 1: There’s an important distinction to make when you’re talking about crime data. There are raw numbers and then there’s the crime rate, which is the number per 1,000 people. The two often get intermingled.

NOTE 2: In Sioux Falls, the raw numbers in some areas have gone up, particularly property crimes such as burglaries and larcenies. The overall rate however, doesn’t change much.

Consider that in 2022 there were 84.9 crimes reported for every 1,000 residents in the city. That’s everything from homicide to shoplifting. That rate is pretty close to the year before and down from a spike in 2020.


NOTE 3: The increase from 2019 to 2020 mirrored a national trend likely related to the pandemic.

There were a couple outliers last year when it comes to property crimes, such as robberies and burglaries. The robberies were primarily an increase in person-to-person thefts, Police Chief Jon Thum said. These are incidents where somebody says, you have something, give it to me.

That’s a little disconcerting to be sure.

Statistics released by the Sioux Falls Police Department and county sheriff reported a 216% increase in the amount of fentanyl seized from 2020 to 2022.

The bump in burglaries was driven by break-ins of convenience stores and vape and tobacco outlets. The thieves, often juveniles, are targeting vaping products, which seems incredibly strange and risky.

Let’s go back to the big picture.

It’s natural to fear any threat to our person or property.

Taking reasonable precautions goes a long way to thwarting crime. For instance, there was an increase in stolen cars last year. Perhaps no crime is easier to prevent. Don’t leave your keys in your car.

Done. Problem solved.


Lock your doors.

Lock up your bikes.

Limit the chances for crimes of opportunity.

Which all sounds like a mighty fine public service message from McGruff the Crime Dog and doesn’t get to the emotional heart of the issue.

Are you safe in Sioux Falls?

Yes. This is a safe place to live and work.

To be sure, this isn’t the same city that it was when I was growing up in the North End.

First of all, there are way more people here. The population has doubled in the past 30 years. Tripled in 50.


More people means more everything, including crime.

The Department of Corrections is looking for land to replace the aging penitentiary near the city's downtown.

And yes, the crime rate of 84.9 that I noted earlier is higher today than it was 10 years ago when it was 75.6.

But the data doesn’t support a perception that I hear expressed more frequently than I’d like. That crime in Sioux Falls is increasing dramatically, or out of proportion for a community our size.

I suspect that’s a result of instantaneous access to information and reporting. Maybe it’s just an overall social anxiety born of some existential dread that we don’t yet understand.

But it’s not real.

Which is not to dismiss the severity of actual crime, especially when it happens to you.

Bad things do happen. We only need to pause a moment to remember some truly heinous criminals in our community, from Robert Leroy Anderson to Donald Moeller to Kelly Van Engelenhoven.

Certainly, there have been others. Is there not some lesson, however, in the fact that their notorious and terrible crimes all occurred in the early and mid-1990s, when we’d just poked our head into six-figures of population, when our economy was sprouting diversified wings and Money Magazine said this was the best place to live in America?


Walk back in time and there has always been crime.

But we have enough police officers and judges and lawyers and jails.

The statistics tell us that. It’s a matter of whether we believe it or not.

Opinion by Patrick Lalley
Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at
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