EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 10, 2013

Patrolmen challenge mayor's statement that crime is down

Fiorentini: The statistics don't lie

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — The city’s patrolmen said Mayor James Fiorentini’s announcement that major crime is down in Haverhill is misleading.

Violent crime and gang activity is on the upswing, they said, based on their first-hand experience policing the city.

In his State of the City speech two weeks ago, Fiorentini said major crime is down 13 percent in Haverhill since 2010 in seven areas tracked by local police for the FBI.

In a press release from the union’s executive committee, the patrolmen said the mayor’s account that major crime is down those 13 percent and that “quality of life” crime is down even more, is contrary to what they have witnessed policing the city. The release said the number of calls to police for services has increased in recent months and that violent behavior is also on the upswing.

“The ever increasing media coverage of incidents such as the murder-shootings of July 2012, multiple stabbings and other violent encounters should be enough to cause concern,” the union said in its press release.

In a home invasion on River Street July 23, four people people were shot and two of them killed. Investigators said the invaders believed large amount of drugs and money were in the home.

Further proof that violent crime, in particular gang activity, is rising is that the Police Department recently received a $98,000 state grant for anti-gang programs, the union said.

“In order to qualify for this grant, the city has to show that crimes and increasing violence is in fact occurring in our community,” the patrolmen said in their statement. “We need to refrain from turning a blind eye to these problems, and instead work with the mayor, the citizens and outside agencies to aggressively address these issues.”

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report tracks reported homicides, forcible rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle crimes. According to the report, major crimes in Haverhill were down significantly in 2012 compared to 2010. The comparison of those two years shows these drops: homicide 33 percent, rape 38 percent, robbery 32 percent, and burglaries 51 percent.

The city’s 2012 crime levels are less encouraging when compared to 2011, however. In fact, murders actually increased from one in 2011 to two last year; there were the same number of assaults — 294 — in 2011 and 2012; and reported instances of forcible rape dropped by only one to 15. When 2012 is compared only to 2011, major crime is down only a few points overall.

In the seven categories, there were 2,149 reported crimes in 2010; 1,947 in 2011; and 1,878 last year. The mayor provided the crime report to the patrolman’s union and The Eagle Tribune late last week after each requested it.

As they have in the past, the patrolmen cast doubt on statistics used to track crime levels in the city. The officers said the FBI report is “limited to specific categories and lacks the intimate knowledge of the community and the police department that supplies the information.”

The union’s release includes information from the FBI that warns against using Uniform Crime Report data to form a full picture of crime in a community. The advisory explains that a department’s resources, including its budget and its ratio of police officers to residents, are key parts of the crime picture not accounted for in the raw statistics. Indeed, Haverhill has one of the worst officer-to-resident ratios in the region, according to the union and other regional studies. There are approximately 90 officers — including 65 patrolmen and detectives — to police Haverhill’s roughly 61,000 residents and 35 square miles.

The FBI report also does not track so-called victimless crimes such as prostitution and drug dealing, and it only tracks reported crimes. Moreover, only male-against-female rapes are counted in the report in tracking rapes and sexual assaults, and only the most severe crime is reported in an instance where multiple offenses have been committed.

In responding to the union’s release, Fiorentini said he stands by his comments that crime is down.

“The statistics are the statistics and they don’t lie,” the mayor said. “I understand the patrolmen are ones on the street and that they feel that crime is not down. But I think that’s because they see it every day. It’s like if you tell a lady whose house was just burglarized that burglaries are down. It’s not going to feel like that to her.”

Still, Fiorentini said the city could put three more patrolmen “on the street” if the union would support his proposal to replace all police officers in the public safety dispatch center with civilian dispatchers. The union recently agreed to use a civilian to replace one of two patrolmen per shift who had been working in the dispatch center, but that still leaves one patrolmen per shift, or three per day, in the dispatch center, Fiorentini said. The union opposes taking all patrolmen out of the dispatch, the mayor said.

Nonetheless, Fiorentini said he believes he and the patrolmen are “on the same page” when it comes to the department’s challenges and needs. He noted he intends to ask City Council on Tuesday to approve his request to hire two more patrolmen. He also said he has scheduled a meeting with the union’s executive committee tomorrow to discuss its concerns.

Police Chief Alan DeNaro also said the crime numbers are accurate and reliable. But the chief stressed they are “only a benchmark tool.”

The statistics “enable law enforcement agencies to gauge the various types of crime in a particular community against what is occurring in other communities, in the region, as well as the entire country,” DeNaro said.

“There is still much to do in reducing serious crime,” the chief said. “I believe the mayor realizes how hard our officers work to keep this community safe and he also understands the need to have adequate manpower to address the needs of the community. Adding the additional officers is a step in the right direction.”

The patrolman’s union said the department continues to be woefully understaffed, but credited the mayor for his recent efforts to boost the ranks. Fiorentini also introduced three new police hires during at his State of the City speech. Those men replaced officers who recently retired.

This isn’t the first time the patrolman’s union has voiced skepticism about the crime statistics and complained about low staffing. Last May, union leaders told City Council that gang activity was on the rise, but that the public doesn’t hear a lot about it because police don’t have the manpower to “crack down” on gangs due to low staffing levels.