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August 24. 2013 11:00PM

Ted Siefer's City Hall: Gatsas challenger adds issue of crime to campaign debate


 

Is crime in Manchester on the decline or is it surging? The answer depends on whom you ask, especially during election season.

Alderman and mayoral candidate Patrick Arnold made crime one of the focal points of the campaign speech he delivered at City Hall last week. In a preview of the speech, he referred to the city's "skyrocketing violent crime." Arnold has been plenty critical of the state of the schools and economic development, but crime is a fairly new plank that he's used to hammer Mayor Ted Gatsas.

In his speech, Arnold said, "According to the FBI, violent crimes have increased in our city annually over the last four years. Robberies have increased 20 percent from where they were in 2009."

It's notable that Arnold's source is the FBI and not the Manchester Police Department's recently released 2012 annual report. In the section on crime statistics, the MPD report shows that violent crime held steady from the previous year, while property crime declined 8.6 percent.

A story in the New Hampshire Union Leader last week used the MPD's stats to report that crime overall was down in the city. When asked about Arnold's rhetoric on the subject, Gatsas referenced the story. "I'll stand behind your article," he said.

It turns out both Gatsas and Arnold have valid points. The crime numbers published by the Manchester police and the FBI are different, even though the MPD states that it "reported the following Part 1 Crimes to the FBI," and the eight crime categories are identical to those used by the FBI in its Uniform Crime Reporting system.

In most categories, the differences are slight, but they're significant in others. In its annual report, the MPD states there were 312 cases of aggravated assault in 2012. The FBI's data show there were 346 such incidents. The difference is enough to change the narrative.

According to the FBI's numbers, violent crime in Manchester rose 1.1 percent from 2011. The MPD report states that violent crime held steady, with exactly 593 incidents in both years. The FBI numbers show property crime declined in the city, but by 8.2, not the 8.6 percent reported by the MPD.

The statistics in the MPD's annual report in 2010 also differ from those posted by the FBI that year, with the MPD reporting lower violent crime rates than the agency.

Police spokeswoman Lt. Maureen Tessier said the difference stems from the fact that the MPD uses the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS. State police convert that data using the UCR system, and then forward it to the FBI, she said.

So is there a difference in the two sets of numbers because the MPD produces its own stats that it "reports to the FBI," in the words of the annual report, that are separate from the ones processed by the state police? Tessier replied in an email, "I am not sure we can offer further explanation," and she said the question would best be directed to the state police, "since they actually do the conversion."

Regardless of what set of numbers one considers, Gatsas acknowledged that crime was a concern in the city. "I think one crime is one too many," he said, adding, "I stand behind the chief one hundred percent."

Referring to Arnold's statements, Gatsas said, "Anybody can make any statement, but somebody needs to tell us what the solutions are."
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On Tuesday, Gatsas was joined by the governor and members of the state's congressional delegation in what was a historic event: the groundbreaking for the Job Corps center in Manchester. It's been a decade since state leaders first proposed the project, which became ensnared in a bitter battle between labor unions and nonunion contractors. At long last, New Hampshire became the 49th state to start work on one of the federally funded Job Corps centers, part of a program that dates back to the Johnson administration.

New Hampshire generally isn't the most hospitable place for large federal projects - this one has a price tag of about $35 million - and the Job Corps program, with its $1.6 billion budget, has been criticized as wasteful.

In light of all of this, it was somewhat surprising to learn that Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo, a staunch fiscal conservative, was not only a supporter of Job Corps, but also a graduate.

"I thought it was a good program," he said.

Greazzo went through the program in Phoenix after he got out of the Army in his early 20s.

"I still keep in touch with the students and my instructor. It helped me learn the building trades," he said.

Greazzo said it was fair to assess the "cost-benefit" of the program and whether it was a good use of tax dollars.

But, he said, "there were a lot people who fought to bring it here. Now we might as well put it to the best use. It will definitely help kids who didn't get a good high school education and help them get into the job field."

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Ward 4 school board member Roy Shoults is continuing his one-man campaign to improve city schools. Shoults has long since given up on change happening through the school board, a body he considers thoroughly "dysfunctional."

Earlier this year, Shoults organized and raised funds to send high school students to the opera. He now wants to support a range of student enrichment activities, a project he calls "Expanding Students' Horizons."

His latest effort is a scholarship fund for needy students who want to take Advanced Placement tests. The idea came about when he learned that the Manchester district "was among the few in the state that did not fund the $89 cost per AP pupil for those taking the exam for college credits," Shoults said in an email about the project.

Donations for the fund would go to the Expanding Students' Horizons account he's set up with the district. For more information, Shoults can be reached at: rssr@comcast.net.


Ted Siefer may be reached at tsiefer@unionleader.com. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.


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