Valley News: NH Crime in Decline, Study Finds01-31-2012 (PDF Version)
N.H. Crime In Decline, Study Finds
By John P. Gregg
Valley News Staff Writer
New Hampshire continues to enjoy one of the lowest crime rates in the nation, according to a statewide report issued this month, though local police chiefs said they noticed a slight uptick in crime in 2011 which could be related to the recession and drug abuse.
The state's crime rate in 2010, the last year covered by the study, was 2,353 per 100,000 residents -- ranking fifth lowest nationwide and considerably below the national average of 3,346 crimes per 100,000 residents.
Only New York, Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota had lower rates than New Hampshire, and Vermont was just slightly higher, according to the study by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies.
“To me the headline is that we're a lot safer than people think we are. If you look at the overall crime rates, that's declined significantly in the last 10 or 15 years in New Hampshire, certainly since the mid-1990s,” said Dennis Delay, a co-author of the study and economist at the Concord-based think tank. “That tends to counter what you hear in news reports, which give people the impression that crime is a bigger problem than it ever was.”
Washington, D.C., had the highest crime rate in the study -- 6,109 per 100,000 residents -- and South Carolina was the state with the highest rate, 4,498.
The study, the first comprehensive statewide analysis in New Hampshire since 1993, found that the state was the second-lowest in the country in terms of murders and aggravated assault in 2008, but ranked 30th when it came to the rate of forcible rapes.
The report used so-called “index crimes” that are tracked by the FBI and include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. “I think the service we're providing is to put all the data in one place and make it accessible to people,” Delay said.
The report noted that public safety enforcement “comes at a significant cost” to the state. In 2010, New Hampshire spent about $1.2 billion on state, county and municipal law enforcement and judicial functions, the report said, almost double the $643 million spent in 2001.
Delay said he felt the statistics, which run through 2010, showed that the recession that hit the country in December 2007 didn't spur higher crime rates, though he said there was some evidence of an increase in crimes such as shoplifting.
The report cataloged all communities in the state with populations above 10,000, which in the Upper Valley includes Lebanon, Claremont and Hanover.
The statistics for Lebanon, which has a population of 13,141 but more than doubles in size during the day because of number of people coming to the city to work, shop or visit a hospital, indicates that it has one of the highest rates for property crimes and forcible rapes, but is middle-of-the-pack in terms of violent crime.
Lebanon Police Chief Jim Alexander noted that Laconia, another city ranked high in forcible rapes and property crime, is also a destination city that attracts people to dine, socialize and work. The visitors are not factored into the population when calculating the crime rate. “Our DWIs are unusually high, misdemeanor drug arrests are unusually high. I think you have to draw the correlation that this is a hub,” said Alexander.
While some of the rates for Lebanon are high, the raw numbers themselves are not as alarming. The city reported 483 property crimes, many of them related to shoplifting and other larcenies, in 2010, and six forcible rapes. Overall, Lebanon reported 29 violent crimes, which also includes robbery, aggravated assault, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, in 2010. “My family and I live here, and I think it's a very safe area,” Alexander said.
Lebanon police surveyed residents and merchants, and are focusing on such priorities as illegal drug use and motor vehicle violations. Alexander said the city counted about 180 drug arrests in 2010, but expects to see at least 100 more in 2011 once the calculations are completed.
Claremont, with a population of 13,355, was in the top five cities in the states in terms of its violent crime rate average between 2006 and 2010. But the city had just 19 violent crimes in 2010, down considerably from the 46, a majority of them aggravated assaults, that were booked in 2009.
Claremont also counted 433 property crimes in 2010, down considerably from the 706 in 1995.
Claremont Police Chief Alexander Scott noted that the city's crime rate was in the range of those of Concord, Keene, Laconia and Manchester.
“These are all cities that are safe to walk in,” said Scott, who has taught policing and criminal procedure at colleges in the Twin States.
He noted that crime is often linked to poverty rates -- a point explicitly made in the study -- and that 13.4 percent of Claremont residents live below the poverty level.
“I think when you have a high poverty rate, the likelihood is that you are going to have an increase in alcohol and drug abuse issues, and those are going to drive a significant portion of your criminal behavior,” Scott said.
Scott said Claremont has tallied a slight increase in property crimes in 2011, and a more dramatic increase in drug arrests, which rose from 32 in 2010 to 58 in 2011.
Hanover, a wealthy college town with a population of 11,260, reported just seven violent crimes in 2010, including three forcible rapes, and 145 property crimes, mainly larcenies.
Police Chief Nicholas Giaccone said he thought the statistics were not surprising, but did say his department booked a significant increase in the value of property reported stolen in 2011. Thefts were also up 16.9 percent in 2011 over 2010, he said.
Giaccone also said he saw a possible connection between crime, drug abuse, and a sluggish economy.
“There's a combination of people out of jobs and also people who are supporting drug habits,” Giaccone said. “If you have a job and you have a drug habit, you might be able to support it. If you don't have a job, you have to find something.”