New London - The number of serious crimes dropped slightly in the city in 2012 and despite a significant drop in manpower this year, police officials say they are on track to hold steady or even record another dip in crime in 2013.
The city's crime rate, the highest in New London County, decreased overall for so-called index crimes that include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson, according to statistics compiled in the annual publication Crime in Connecticut, which follows a national Uniform Crime Reporting Program maintained by the Connecticut State Police Crime Analysis Unit.
Reported rapes, burglaries and larcenies were down last year while motor vehicle thefts, assaults and robberies were up. There were three murders reported in both 2011 and 2012. New London has averaged two murders a year since 2002, the last year the city went without one.
Murder numbers, for purposes of the report, include manslaughter cases in which a homicide involved gross negligence. There was one homicide reported in the city this year - the August shooting death of 29-year-old Jesus Pinero. That case remains unsolved.
While this year's overall crime numbers are shaping up to be flat or slightly below 2012 numbers, Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said assaults are down compared to last year and drug violations are significantly higher. He said there were 114 drug violations logged at this time last year and 189 so far this year - a 65 percent increase.
He said there was a drop in drug violations last year as investigators spent months working with federal officials on an operation that culminated in April with federal charges against more than 100 people connected to a drug trafficking and money laundering operation. Street-level arrests also are back up again this year and contributing to the higher numbers.
Reichard said many arrests so far this year have involved heroin and synthetic marijuana, which was banned in Connecticut last year after several years of being sold on convenience store shelves.
Police arrested four people Wednesday on Coit Street where police seized more than a pound of synthetic marijuana, along with other drugs and packaging material. In July, state police pulled over a New London man who police said was transporting 900 bags, or 23 pounds, of synthetic marijuana with an estimated street value of $18,000. A local man was arrested in February after police seized about 500 packages of K2, a variety of synthetic marijuana, during a raid at Sam's Food/Ravi Petro convenience store at 290 Broad St.
Reichard said there may not be a simple explanation for the drop in reported crimes in 2012 but there may be a correlation to a community-based policing strategy that shifts more officers to problem areas.
"It's more or less a chess game," Reichard said. "Extra officers are deployed to specific targeted areas. Hopefully the mere presence of officers in the areas … acts as a deterrent."
Reichard said the department used overlapping patrol shifts last year that effectively doubled the number of officers during specific times and in targeted areas. With a recent drop in manpower, however, he said the extra patrols are used to a lesser extent. "We at present just don't have the extra manpower to do it seven days a week," he said.
More than a dozen officers have left for other jobs in the past year following cuts to the department's budget and threats of layoffs. The number of uniformed officers dropped from 80 last year to below 70 this year.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio issued a statement on the release of the latest crime statistics. "The administration believes that better patrol strength allocations instituted by the police chief, and deputy chief, have had a positive effect on crime reduction," Finizio said. "Continued integration of community policing methodologies in our department will continue this trend, along with installation of better lighting and surveillance cameras throughout our city. The city also plans to begin hiring new officers and replacing vehicles and equipment, as long as our budget remains balanced and stable."
Along with a drop in serious crimes, New London police also recorded a drop in the total number of arrests, from 1,450 in 2011 to 1,141 in 2012, according to the report. Those arrests range from murder and rape to drunken driving and disorderly conduct.
Reichard said an analysis of 10 years worth of crime numbers show an encouraging trend of an increased number of crimes solved, dating back to a low of 14.4 percent in 2006. For 2012, 34.2 percent of the 1,130 reported major crimes were cleared.
Reichard said since an increase in the number of patrol officers may not be coming anytime soon, the department is concentrating on how to control crime with current numbers. "We work with what we have and not what we might have six months down the line," he said.
Reichard is also part of a working group exploring how technology might aid in crime deterrence, specifically with extra lighting and surveillance cameras. The city presently uses cameras in several locations but the technology is aging. He said the city is exploring a system that might be compatible with not only the school system, but with future purchases of cameras by downtown merchants.