PAWTUCKET—With the state of the local economy and a spate of convenience store robberies making news, Pawtucket Police admit that crime is on the rise. However, they say it didn't increase in 2010 over the previous year as much as another local newspaper had indicated.
Pawtucket Police Chief Paul King and Major Arthur Martins said that the overall crime rate had increased by about 9 percent in 2010 over 2009, but not the 13 percent spike that was recently reported in the other publication. The total number of arrests in 2010 was 3,446 as compared to the 2009 figure of 3,077, Martins said. He further noted that the arrest rate by Pawtucket Police for 2010 was also at a figure of almost 9 percent
The two top police officials say that the disparity apparently stemmed from an analysis that was not an “apples to apples” comparison of crime statistics that came directly from the Pawtucket Police Department's computer, and the way these figures are later reported out by the Rhode Island State Police in their annual report.
For example, King and Martins say that in a robbery where three people were victimized, Pawtucket's record-keeping would count that as three robberies while, when the State Police extrapolate the data for their annual report, they would consider that as one robbery incident. Because only the raw Pawtucket Police Department data for 2010 was used by the other publication, they say the comparisons to the State Police statistics from 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006 were misleading.
King and Martins provided the Times with the raw data from the Pawtucket Police Department's internal based records for those same five years which shows that many of the crimes in the reported categories as being higher than the figures provided by the State Police. The total number of arrests is up by about 482, but the police officials say that, except for a couple of categories such as burglary/breaking and entering, weapons violations and drug/narcotics violations, the amount of overall crime has pretty much stayed the same over the past five years.
Burglaries/breaking and entering numbered 733 in 2010, a figures that had grown from the 617 in 2009, 663 in 2008, 496 in 2007 and 585 in 2006. Yet, Martins said that 100 of these burglaries involve vacant or abandoned properties, which is a direct link to the increased number of foreclosed properties. In these cases, thieves were mostly looking to steal copper piping.
Two of the categories which saw a spike from the previous year, weapons law violations, at 109 in 2010 as compared to 76 in 2009; and drugs/narcotics arrests, a rise of 581 in 2010 as compared to 331 in 2009, are more of a result of increased enforcement and vigilance in these areas as opposed to their actually being more weapons and drugs on the city's streets, Martins said.
As opposed to when a weapon is used in a crime, a weapons violations arrest is when a person is found to be in possession of a gun or a knife, either on their person or in their vehicle. Martins said that patrol officers are being more vigilant in looking for weapons on people, particularly if someone is known to police.
King added that some of the crime incidents appear to be up because there is a more aggressive approach being taken to combat certain types of crime, particularly during the night shift. “There are certain crimes we can't stop. But we can aggressively pursue the little ones that can lead to the bigger things,” King said. “This is what we are striving for.”
As to the drug arrests, Martins said that some 80 percent of the city's drug arrests involve marijuana, as opposed to the harder drugs. “It's not like we have the drug cartels moving in here,” he noted.
King said there is a perception that marijuana is practically half legal now anyway, and that people have gotten more careless about leaving it in plain site. “It may even be legal by next year, who knows, but right now, it is still a criminal violation in Rhode Island,” he said. He added that these lax attitudes are reflected in the higher number of arrests in 2010.
Martins added that in Massachusetts, possession of one ounce of marijuana or less is now a civil violation, so many people cross into the state not thinking that it is a more serious offense.
Another area where the number of incidents appears to be up, intimidation, which was at 78 in 2010 compared to 37 in 2009, is a case where a threat from a phone call is now considered a crime, King said. In years past, this was more of a gray area if someone threatened to kill someone else over the phone as opposed to making the threat in person.
Prostitution, with 11 incidents reported in 2010 as compared to 5 in 2009, is not really on the rise since some of these arrests have come about as a result of the change in state law that makes indoor prostitution a crime. While 2010 was double the number of 2009, in 2006 there were 19 reports of prostitution, with 7 in 2008, and 10 in 2007.
Rape, with 44 cases reported in 2010, would appear to be on the rise given that the 2009 figure was 29. However, Martins said he thinks this is more of a matter of greater awareness and less stigma about reporting this type of crime than more rapes actually occurring. Martins added that in all but a very small number of the reported rape cases, the suspect was known to the victim in some manner, as opposed to being committed by a stranger, which is more alarming to public safety.
Martins noted that while motor vehicle theft is up slightly from 2010, with 242 incidents as opposed to 224 in 2009, he said it is mostly older model cars or situations where people have left their cars running unattended. Newer model cars, with more sophisticated electronic keys and alarm devices, are more difficult for the “average” thief to steal, he said.
Despite the troubled economy, some crimes that would seem to be fueled by those with money woes actually decreased in 2010 over 2009. There were only 3 reported purse-snatching incidents in 2010 versus 7 the previous year, 5 incidents of embezzlement as compared to 10 in 2009, and 86 cases of shoplifting as opposed to 115 in 2009 and a high of 136 in 2006.
Even some crimes where there seemed to be a rash of publicized incidents, such as theft from motor vehicles and destruction/vandalism to property, actually decreased in 2010 from the previous year. At 242 incidents, there were less occurrences of theft from motor vehicles than the 224 in 2009, and far less than the 380 in 2008, 345 in 2007 and 359 in 2006. Vandalism incidents were 991 in 2010, while 2009 saw 1,004 such crimes, 2008 had 1,067, 2,007 saw 988 and 2006 had 1,049.
As to the latest round of armed robberies that have been plaguing the city, including Wednesday's hold-up of the Metro PCS store at 214 Broadway by two masked gunman, Martins said the police are working diligently on the cases, including in coordination with police in neighboring communities where similar incidents have occurred.
Martins said that police believe the majority of these incidents are being committed by two separate groups of individuals, one of which is believed to be linked with three armed robberies that took place in 2010. A second group of suspects is believed to be responsible for four to five robberies that date back to early January through to Wednesday's incident at the Metro PCS store at 214 Broadway.
King added that as part of Mayor Donald Grebien's call to increase traffic enforcement in the wake of a recent spike in accidents, patrol officers have also been asked to check on the owners of convenience stores and other small businesses while making their rounds. “They're doing more than just issuing tickets,” said King.
The chief added that store clerks should not hesitate to call police immediately about anything that seems suspicious or out of place, even if it is something as seemingly mundane as someone driving through the parking lot three times or sitting in their car for long period of time. Or, if someone comes in to a store appearing to have their face covered or is acting like they are stalling, the clerk should dial 911 right away. “We're here, 24/7. No one should feel like they are 'bothering us,' “ King stressed.
Martins added, “We have a pretty good handle on the way certain things have spiked. And, with increased enforcement efforts, the crime rate numbers will obviously be going up.” He added, however, that, especially in the area of the so-called victimless crimes, such as drug and weapons possession, the police department plans to continue taking a proactive approach. The arrest rates, therefore, are also expected to rise in these areas.