Queen City Crime: Lessons Learned

Sep 20, 2013

Over the last few months, NHPR’s Newsroom has been examining the crime landscape in the city of Manchester. The series Queen City Crime comes to a close this week and All Things Considered host Brady Carlson interviews the lead reporter for the series, NHPR’s Ryan Lessard, to hear what he learned.

What did you hear from folks living in the city?

Earlier this month, the Manchester Police Department hosted a community meeting to discuss residents’ concerns. During that meeting, several people spoke up and voiced their frustrations. Many feel that the crime rate is getting out of hand and that the police aren’t doing enough. Like Norm Beaudet, from the west side, who asked what police are doing so solve the crimes in his area.

“I’ve talked to my neighbors. You’re not doing any of this. So how is it evidence or anything that you’re gonna put these criminals away if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be as a police officer as far as I’m concerned.”

Chief David Mara responded by saying he’s got one detective dedicated to burglaries.

“This one detective has last month alone arrested 12 people for 74 different burglary/property related crimes. So I guess what I’m saying is that we are working sir and I’m sorry you feel as frustrated as you do.”

And while Mara praised the work of that one detective, the subtext here is that he wants more officers on the force. The Chief told me he wants to swear in 30 to 50 more people. That issue has since become a political issue in this year’s mayoral election. I also noticed that there are a few hot spots that police have to regularly orbit like the club scene and the skate park.

But in the meantime, the force is making do with what they have by triaging crime using statistics and trying to prevent crime through community policing and partnering with social services.

After spending a lot of time with police, what seems to be the biggest issue they face?

At the start of the series, a group of us went down to the Manchester police station and met with Chief David Mara. And right at the outset, the chief talked about the importance of burglaries. He pointed to a chart on the wall that showed a spike in burglaries two years ago and said the department ramped up efforts to crack down on that type of crime in particular.

Sure enough, as the series got underway, this summer saw an enormous rise in burglary numbers. July alone had 148. That’s compared to only 90 from July of last year. But while that’s a lot in a short period of time, the earlier months saw less than last year so when you add it up, the year-to-date numbers are fairly even.

Police say they’ve also noticed a rise in copper pipe and wire thefts. And they say all of this is almost always driven by drug addiction especially to opiates like Heroin and Oxycodone. Manchester’s undercover narcotics team has made some significant drug busts this year, including one that resulted in the largest amount of heroin seized by the city at one time. But they have no illusions that they’re stemming the tide.

Why the focus on burglaries?

We heard time and again about the broken windows theory. The theory suggests that small, visible crimes can escalate quickly to more serious crimes. And residential burglaries have the most noticeable effect.

Chief says that there’s an important psychological consequence to having your home broken into that can be the death knell to a safe community. When people stop expecting their home—their temple to be secure, there’s a serious reduction in the quality of life that can be worsened by an exodus of law abiding residents.

What did you find out about homicides during your research?

Police caution that homicides are generally anomalous events and we should be careful not to read too much into past patterns. That said, this year is already slightly above average for the past five years. All but one have been solved. And statistically, most of those homicides from the past five years happened in the last three months of the year. So we’ll see what happens.

As you mentioned earlier, this is an election year for the city and crime has become an issue in the mayoral race. What can you tell us about that?

Well, first let me say that police believe the overall crime rates in Manchester are not out of the ordinary for a city this size. But people are still worried by what they see.

Mayor Ted Gatsas says that things are getting better. He points to cleaner parks and recent arrests. But when the police department’s need for a $38,000 fingerprint analysis kit became apparent, he chimed in to make a campaign promise. Here’s Gatsas speaking up during the recent community meeting.

“…Because, what I’m hearing out here is that hundreds of thousands of dollars are being stolen. And if we as a city can’t step up and find 38, we found 300 and some odd thousand dollars to get police tasers. We will find $38,000 to get you that kit.”

Democratic contender Patrick Arnold is trying to defeat incumbent Republican Ted Gatsas. So Arnold is more likely to make it a big issue, saying crime is getting worse. He was the first to bring up crime and criticizes Gatsas’ handling of the problem and for vetoing last year’s request for more cops. Recently, Arnold came out with a bulleted public safety plan that includes things like making a special investigations unit for home invasions and steadily increasing the police compliment by a few cops each year.