Boston Sees Across-The-Board Drop In Crime So Far This Year

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BOSTON — Crime in Boston is down across the board in the first four months of this year, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Boston Police Department.

The preliminary data show an overall drop of 19 percent from the same period last year, and there are significant decreases in robbery, attempted robbery, aggravated assault and homicide.

The homicide numbers are of particular interest following a spike in the city's murder rate last year. In 2010, 72 people were murdered in Boston — 17 of them in the first four months of the year, compared to eight so far this year.

WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis about the data.

Sacha Pfeiffer: Is it atypical for crime numbers in all categories to drop across the board like this?

Ed Davis: It is atypical. We are very happy with the quarter that we've just experienced, and the drops really started at about the middle of November of last year, so we're on our fifth month or more that show significant crime reductions in the city and we're very happy about that.

These numbers look at Jan. 1 to April 24 of this year. What do you attribute that roughly four-month drop in crime to?

Well, there's been a lot of good police work going on. We had a significant increase in homicides in the fall of 2010 and, in response to that, we activated a lot of visibility in the city. We have police officers that are on walking routes, out of police cars, in areas that we've identified as particularly problematic. We had some very effective investigations that stem from the increase in violence. We were also dealing with some dysfunction in the parole department that put a lot of very serious offenders out on the street. So we needed to play catch-up and we did that very effectively in the latter part of 2010 — and those results are showing on the street right now. We have a very good relationship with probation that's working much better than it was in years past. So we're putting pieces together that haven't been fully functional since the 1990s, and there are obvious benefits to that that are showing in the numbers.

When we have very hot summers, we tend to see increases in crime. When I think back to last winter, it was very cold but there wasn't a lot of snow. This recent winter, we had a lot of snow; people were essentially snowbound for much of January and February. Do you attribute some of the drop in crime to that: people really couldn't get out of their houses much?

That certainly does help in the categories of drug distribution and gang violence. However, when you see a really bad winter like that, you usually see steep increases in domestic violence and disputes inside homes, and we didn't see that this winter. So the good news is the numbers are very good as we enter into the warmer months.

So you think you can attribute the drop partly to weather but not entirely to weather?

That's correct.

How much, if at all, do you attribute the drop in crime to a decrease in gang activity and a decrease in drug activity?

Comparing the numbers this year to last year, we saw a spike in gang activity in the fall and we saw a spike in narcotics activity as it relates to the motivations behind homicide. However, the overall number of serious crime dropped even last year when we had that really bad increase in killing. And so this is now the fifth year that we're entering into where the numbers have been down between 3 and 5 percent every year. And these substantial drops that we've seen in the first quarter are, I think, a good indication that this will be another year when we have a reduction in serious crime.

These numbers come out as the city of Boston and the state are trying to decide where to make major cuts. Do you intend to tout these numbers to show that you can't afford to cut police services?

Luckily, I don't have to do that in Boston. The mayor understands the importance of police on the streets and he's made a commitment to keeping our numbers up. He has over 60 officers that are about to graduate in June. He has another class of 40 or so that are going in immediately after that class comes out. We're keeping the numbers of police officers up and it makes a significant difference in the quality of life of people in our neighborhoods.

This program aired on April 26, 2011.

Headshot of Sacha Pfeiffer

Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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