Perceptions about higher crime don't match national, local statistics

About 61 percent of U.S. citizens believe overall crime in the United States has increased in the past 10 years even though it hasn’t, according to a study The Huffington Post and YouGov released last week.

The figure was considerably lower — 38 percent — when the 1,000 adults surveyed were asked about crime in their own towns, but the point remains: As a whole, Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show, the rates of property and violent crimes have declined throughout the country.

The data, which were calculated using murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson numbers, show the same is true in southeastern Connecticut: All of the municipalities for which data are available had a lower overall crime rate in 2014 than in 2005.

Some, such as Waterford, saw an overall drop in property crime but a recent jump in violent crime.

Others, like New London and Groton Long Point, had a spike in violent or property crime from 2010 through 2012, but have since stabilized.

But in Norwich, where a relatively steady drop in overall crime has the rate 26 percent lower than it was in 2005, Acting Chief Patrick Daley said he still hears people suggesting crime is up — "a lot."

“With social media and the news media ... it’s not always an accurate picture,” Daley said. “It’s almost impossible to let people know what the crime picture really is.”

In 2005, Norwich had violent crime rate of about 50 crimes per 10,000 people and a property crime rate of 285 crimes per 10,000 people.

By 2014, those numbers were 38 and 210, respectively.

Daley pointed to Norwich’s focus on community policing as the likely reason crime has dropped in the city.

Community policing “has a lot to do with it,” he said. “People feel comfortable with police — helping police, talking to the police. And police are more involved in the neighborhoods. They have a better understanding of them and the people there and are able to head off crime at an early stage.”

In Groton City, Chief Thomas Davoren said although he doesn’t hear people speaking of rising crime rates locally, he wouldn’t be surprised to hear them speak of it nationally.

“You hear about these shootings and mass killings and it’s shocking to the conscience,” Davoren said. “I believe that’s what driving their perceptions. They may be thinking, ‘We didn’t have (semi-automatic rifles) blasting up nightclubs back in the day, so crime must be up.’”

Davoren emphasized that those situations, while horrendous, aren’t the norm.

Still, he noted, Groton City has seen a spike in property and violent crime since 2013.

"With the rise in opioid use, we're seeing a lot of property crime ... and other associated crimes go up with it," Davoren said.

But Davoren, who spent more than 26 years with the state police before coming to Groton City in 2012, said crime is "nowhere near" what it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the state saw around 200 murders each year. In 2014, that number was 86.

To help keep residents at ease, Davoren said, Groton City police do two things: Respond quickly and make it known that they care.

“If a citizen calls and wants to talk to a police officer, they will get to,” he said. “We won’t say we’re too busy. You never know what’s going to be consequential.”

New London Deputy Chief Peter Reichard, who also pointed to opioids as a possible reason for the city’s recent uptick in property crime, said New London’s “unique” characteristics contribute, too.

While New London has seen a more than 13 percent decline in overall crime since 2005, its rate still is much higher than that of the communities surrounding it.

Within the small city of 27,000 people and 6 square miles, Reichard noted, is a hospital, a train, bus and taxi transportation hub, a ferry service that serves two other states, an adult probation office, a regional courthouse and a homeless hospitality center.

“There aren’t a lot of cities in the state that have all of these resources right in the center of the city,” he said.

But Reichard, who said the city’s relatively small police force has been “taxed to the limits at times,” is hoping the 10 officers who've been brought on in the past year will make a tangible impact.

“I think the force is at 68 now, not including the chief and myself,” he said. “Having 58 versus 68 could be a reason why there are more reported incidents — there are more people out there to report the incidents. But it also means there are more self-initiated steps by officers out on the street to stop crime.”

l.boyle@theday.com






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