New London - Serious crimes in the city spiked by 8 percent last year, with the number of reported robberies and burglaries at their highest levels in at least a decade, according to preliminary statistics provided to The Day by the police department.
The so-called index crimes include eight categories: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson. State police regularly gather statistics on these crimes from municipal departments and send them to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
While acknowledging the increases in the index crimes, Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard and Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio both say statistics show a 3 percent overall decrease in the crime rate from the calendar years 2012 to 2013. The decrease they refer to comes from a list of reported incidents, 6,679 in all in 2013, which includes not only crimes such as drug and weapons offenses but non-criminal activities such as 189 medical evaluations, 93 suicide attempts and 183 suspicious incidents.
Although the report includes such non-criminal incidents, it omits two of the three homicides committed in the city last year. It does include the October manslaughter case involving an infant.
Reichard acknowledged the omission but said he was unsure why it happened. He said the numbers have not been completely audited because of departmental computer issues. The department has not yet submitted final numbers to the state.
Finizio used the same categories, including reported incidents, in January 2013 when he announced a nearly 13 percent drop in the crime rate. Index crimes had dipped only by 2 percent, according to statistics compiled by the department.
"I'm pleased to see crime in the city overall is down 3 percent," he said of this year's numbers. "This is a decrease in crime over 2012 and also a decrease in crime over 2011. The fact that some crimes reported higher is always a concern. Staffing levels and our overall ability to respond to public safety needs is a concern of mine regardless of what the statistics show. We still are struggling because of a low patrol strength. We need to in this budget address the patrol strength."
Finizio said he plans to prepare a budget this year that will include funding for a major increase in manpower, a rebuilding of sorts following the exodus of more than a dozen police officers that started in earnest last year and has led to fewer patrols and more overtime.
From a high of 95 officers just a few years ago, the department stands at 67 sworn officers, Reichard said. Finizio said he wants to see that number rise to 80, along with an increase in police dog teams from two to four.
Reichard said that more patrol officers on duty could lead to higher visibility and allow officers to take a more proactive approach to crime fighting, rather than going call to call, processing arrestees and paperwork.
"Because we're down … we don't have the luxury of additional officers on certain shifts," Reichard said.
In addition to the drop in manpower, Reichard said, several officers are eligible for retirement this year, making future planning even more of a priority. Two detective positions are also open.
He said increases in certain crimes appear to predate the departure of officers last year and may simply be a "sign of the times."
The statistics tally increases in:
• Robberies, which went from 46 in 2012 to 68 last year, a 48 percent increase.
• Burglaries, which went from 199 in 2012 to 267 in 2013, a 34 percent jump.
• Rapes, which increased from 13 to 22.
Reichard attributes the dramatic jump in reported rapes to the new, more inclusive definition for rape that took effect Jan. 1, 2013, although two years ago there were 20 reported rapes.
The FBI's new gender-neutral definition of rape includes "penetration no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."
It replaces an 80-year-old definition that defined rape as "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will." The new definition includes victims incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity.
Vehicle thefts and arsons, two of the eight index crimes, were down in the city last year.
Another apparent bright spot is that aggravated assaults reportedly were down 26 percent, from 231 in 2012 to 170 last year. The state, however, has reported a higher number of aggravated assaults in New London in 2012 - 308, a 10-year high.
Reichard said discrepancies in the numbers between the department and state are expected. State police use the National Incident-Based Reporting System to compile and in some cases combine crimes into uniform categories. Those statistics will not be available until later this year, when the state police release their Crime in Connecticut report.
For the third year in a row, New London experienced three homicides - a shooting death, a beating death and the infant who died of injuries sustained after allegedly being shaken by his caregiver. New London police have arrested or identified suspects in all three of the crimes, although the two adult homicides, which occurred in August and December, are not included in the preliminary statistics.
Reichard said he is encouraged by the significant drop in aggravated assaults but points to larcenies and burglaries as the major drivers behind the overall increase in index crimes.
He called many of those offenses crimes of opportunity, committed either by someone in poor financial shape or because of drugs. He said some of those charged in burglaries last year had committed more than one crime.
"We don't have 267 burglars out there," Reichard said. "One arrest usually clears two or more crimes. Some confess to numerous burglaries."
A robbery may not be what some envision, Reichard said. For instance, he said, a person may be charged with robbery for taking someone's cellphone. Such incidents count in the totals, he said.
Drug violations were up from 147 in 2012 to 301 last year; arrests for drunken driving dropped from 206 to 145; and motor vehicle violations dropped from 612 to 522.
Finizio said he plans to urge the City Council to act on this year's funding request to add stability to the department. The council is debating a $300,000 request to install a series of surveillance cameras across the city that would be linked to the police station. Finizio said that the system could be up and running by summer.
The mayor said he is still hopeful for a resolution to contract negotiations with the local police union. Police have been working without a contract since July 1.
Officer Todd Lynch, president of the local police union, said he agreed that the departure of officers has led to the loss of what he referred to as "omnipresence."
"The more officers people see on the street patrolling, the less they're going to commit crimes," he said. "We've lost that."
However, Lynch, a frequent critic of Chief Margaret Ackley, said while there is no doubt the city needs to beef up its police force, other issues need to be addressed first.
"The union's point always has been, you have to fix the problem on why police officers have been leaving before you throw money at the problem," Lynch said. "The environment hasn't changed. You have numerous younger officers, the young and upcoming, want out. It's not if, but a matter of when, they find another place to go. Nobody wants to look at why they're leaving."
In addition, he said remaining officers face burnout because of the frequent double shifts.
Reichard said the department is doing its best to cope with the manpower drop through targeted patrols. "Where we see the numbers running high, we try and hit those spots," he said.