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The 2011 spike: Why did crime in city, state rise?

August 26. 2013 7:23PM

MANCHESTER ALDERMAN Patrick Arnold has decided that the way to beat Mayor Ted Gatsas this fall is to blame him for rising crime in the city. But is crime rising? And if so, who is to blame? City and state crime data reveal some numbers that do not make Arnold's case any easier, but that all Granite Staters ought to find unsettling.

Arnold claims that FBI data show Manchester's violent crime rate "skyrocketing." According to that data, there were 537 violent crimes in the city in 2009, 544 in 2010, and 618 in 2011. City Police Department data show a similar spike from 2010 to 2011: 509 to 593. (Data for 2012 remain preliminary and unofficial.)

Arnold thinks he has found a weak spot for Gatsas. That might be true if the 2011 spike was confined to Manchester. It was not. Violent crime went way up in Concord that year. And in Nashua. And in Portsmouth. In fact, 2011 saw a huge jump in violent crime statewide.

New Hampshire's violent crime rate jumped from 167 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 188 in 2011, according to FBI figures. (The property crime rate shot up too.) That was the largest spike in the violent crime rate since 2008, when it also rose 20 points in a single year. (It is worth noting the national crime rate fell by 3.8 percent in 2011 and 1.9 percent in 2008.)

In a state as small as New Hampshire, the crime numbers and rates fluctuate a lot from year to year. But going all the way back to 1999, there have been only two 20-point jumps in the violent crime rate. The 2008 jump brought the violent crime rate to 157.2 per 100,000 people — still below its rate in 2004, 2001 and 2000. It was a sort of return to norm after a few declining years. It stayed between 157 and 167 until 2011, when it jumped 12.5 percent, to 188. That jump was not a return to the norm, but a jump to the state's highest violent crime rate of the new century.

Did something unusual happen in New Hampshire in 2011? Well, Senate Bill 500, the law designed to empty New Hampshire prison cells by releasing inmates before the completion of their sentences, took effect in October 2010. From November 2010 through Dec. 1, 2011, New Hampshire's prison population fell from 2,806 to 2,492.

Perhaps it is a total coincidence that violent crime rose by 12.5 percent as the prison population fell by 11 percent. (Property crime rose by 8.5 percent.) There were 280 more violent crimes and 2,580 more property crimes in New Hampshire in 2011 than in 2010. By contrast, there were 84 fewer violent crimes in 2010 than in 2009 and 158 more property crimes.

Maybe releasing 314 offenders had nothing to do with a one-year spike of 280 violent crimes. What is clear is that the 12 percent spike in violent crime in Manchester in 2011 is a bit smaller than the 12.5 percent spike in violent crime statewide that same year.

If Patrick Arnold wants someone to blame for rising violent crime in the city, Gatsas is not the guy. A more likely culprit would be then-Gov. John Lynch, who pushed for SB 500 by falsely assuring legislators that it would not release dangerous criminals.

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