The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Urban crime trends
Violent crime on the rise as property crimes drop

By Ryan Lessard

 Across the state and in major cities like Manchester, Nashua and Concord, burglaries have been reduced significantly. But police aren’t celebrating yet, as crimes like aggravated assaults are seeing increases.

First, the good news
In 2013, burglaries had risen to a record high of 904 and were marked by a significant spike in the summer months with July alone seeing nearly 150 burglaries.
When Manchester’s former police chief, David Mara, watched this happen, he decided to make burglaries one of the department’s main areas of focus, saying that particular crime can have a devastating effect on a city’s quality of life and sense of safety. 
With Mara’s new focus on burglaries, police started using crime data to fight the problem more proactively, turning spreadsheets into maps and getting access to a pawn shop database.
Fast forward three years and a lot has happened. What was then a clear but nascent heroin problem exploded into an epidemic in the city and throughout the state with skyrocketing overdoses and deaths. With addiction, property crimes tend to follow as desperate addicts turn to theft, robbery and burglary to pay for more drugs. 
But burglaries indeed decreased in Manchester from that high in 2013 to 738 in 2014 and 675 in 2015. 
Last year marked a 6-percent drop but the year-to-date numbers are even more promising. From January through June 22 of this year, there was a 31-percent decline compared to 2015. In fact overall Part 1 crimes (the FBI name for the eight most serious types of crime) in Manchester are down by 19 percent so far this year, largely due to declines in property crimes.
Larceny (felony thefts of property valued over $1,000) and motor vehicle thefts have both fallen by 23 percent so far. Robberies are down slightly from 109 to 103.
From 2014 to 2015, robberies were the only crime to see a decrease besides burglaries in the Queen City.
Manchester Chief Nick Willard said in a recent press conference that burglaries are down because the force has been using a number of aggressive strategies that target specific areas of the city and past offenders on parole. Burglars have a high recidivism rate but their crimes are often hard to prove unless they are caught in the act.
So, with the help of predictive policing models — which began in July 2015 and use historical data to suggest how patrols should be deployed — and surveillance by plainclothes police in the street crime unit, more burglars are getting caught.
Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie says that has an exponential effect on crime numbers.
“If you have 100 burglaries, there are not 100 different people committing the burglaries. It’s usually the same 10 people. [So] you start to take these people off the street and your burglaries come down dramatically,” Lavoie said.
Other new strategies used in Manchester include Operation Granite Hammer, which gave narcotics investigators the resources to catch more drug dealers; Operation Cyan, which partnered city police with state police to enforce traffic offenses; “hotspot” initiatives, which use software to indicate area crime spikes over a two-week period; and what the chief calls “park-and-walks,” when the chief himself drives to a hotspot, walks around and talks with residents to see what might be going on. He recalled a recent successful example of this.
“It took 10 minutes before a lot of the neighbors were pointing out a drug house. Two weeks later, our street crime unit shut that drug house down and immediately the reports of prostitution and car thefts pretty much went down to zero,” Willard said.
While robberies, larceny and other property crimes did not see consistent declines in every city, burglaries seem to be going out of style across the state.
After climbing to a high of 5,319 burglaries in New Hampshire in 2011, incidents consistently became fewer to 3,941 in 2014 — the fewest since 2009, according to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Center.
Lavoie says burglaries in Nashua between Jan. 1 and March 12 had dropped by 51 percent.
“That’s a pretty significant drop,” Lavoie said.
Burglaries also halved in the Gate City between 2015 and 2014, from 269 to 136, the lowest in the past decade, according to data supplied by the Nashua police crime analyst. The average from 2005 to 2015 was 359.
And the reasons are the same as in Manchester, according to Lavoie: a more aggressive and proactive police strategy that targets repeat offenders and hotspots using data.
Nashua is the only city of the three to see a decrease in larceny in 2015. The 37-percent decline from 2014 also brought the larceny numbers to a 10-year low. It’s down 28 percent from January to March.
In Manchester, larceny was essentially flat with a 3-percent increase but Concord saw a 24-percent increase in 2015. 
“Maybe that’s an easier way to get your money … as opposed to burglary. Burglary is a very risky crime to commit for anybody,” Concord Police Chief Bradley Osgood said.
Since those crimes are mostly committed by drug addicts, Lavoie believes a jump in drug arrests is to thank for the declines in property crimes. He says there have been more than 400 drug arrests so far this year, which is about twice as many as this time last year by his estimation.
Drug arrests in Concord are up by 56 percent so far this year.
The bad news: more violence
In all three cities, the number of aggravated assaults increased between 2014 and 2015. In Manchester, it was up by 14 percent, 24 percent in Nashua and 65 percent in Concord.
“It’s becoming more and more violent, and I think we’re seeing that in our numbers,” Osgood said.
General violence is perhaps best represented in the aggravated assault category because it captures a great deal of domestic violence and gun violence, whereas homicides are generally seen as anomalous. Aggravated assaults in New Hampshire are crimes that cause serious bodily harm as well as hate crimes, domestic violence and choking.
In Manchester, these assaults are up 26 percent so far this year.
Willard said 38 percent of those 201 crimes were domestic abuse-related, which is now tracked through a change in the law that was implemented at the start of 2015. It also increased the charges for choking to be included in the Part 1 crimes.
Even gun shots fired in the air or at buildings are counted as assaults, something that has happened a lot recently in Manchester — about 18 shootings over a six-week period. 
“We had two competing gangs shooting at one another in the South Street area and we poured a bunch of resources into there,” Willard said.
He says about most of those gunshots were committed by two groups of drug dealers from Boston firing bullets into apartments where their rivals were believed to reside. Willard says he’s seen drug dealer violence going back to the crack wars of the 1990s.
Forcible rapes also appear to be on the rise in the three cities, but Willard and his counterparts in Nashua and Concord believe those numbers are partly up due to victims’ feeling more empowered to speak up and report the crimes.
Ultimately, Osgood says the best way to reduce crime is to shrink the number of addicts in these cities. Fighting the epidemic requires “four legs of the stool,” he says, which include law enforcement, prevention, treatment and recovery.
“If there’s a big pot of money, I would suggest that about 70 to 80 percent of that money needs to go to treatment and recovery,” Osgood said.
Willard agrees that tackling the demand side of the drug crisis is key.
“If we can do that, then I think this city is going to turn around in a hurry,” Willard said. 

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