DERRY — Statistics recently released by the Derry Police Department shed light on the cycle of criminal activity in town and technology’s influence on how crimes are committed and solved.
The statistics also demonstrate the unpredictability of crime in Derry and the difficulty in predicting who will break the law next, said veteran Derry Police Capt. Vernon Thomas.
“One person can become a crime wave,” said Thomas, a 32-year member of the force. “You lock them up and it ends, and then somebody else will start the same thing.”
Thomas spoke recently on a set of crime statistics from 2002 to 2012 of reported offenses released by the department. The statistics show that crime tends to run in cycles, with drugs serving as a catalyst for other crimes.
“Most of the property crimes involving theft are drug driven,” Thomas said. “You look at the robberies and they are for drugs, or the physical robbery of a person for drugs or drug money.”
Reported drug-related offenses were up from 137 in 2011 to 180 in 2012, representing a 31 percent increase. Five years ago, there were 128 reported offenses compared to 140 in 2002. Statistics are compiled annually and were not available for this year.
“When you look at what information is being provided out there, they talk about physical addiction and psychological addiction, and I’m sure all that plays into it, but these people are certainly motivated to commit crime to support that habit,” Thomas said.
As for the type of drugs being used, police haven’t encountered much of the drug known as Molly, a pure form of the drug ecstasy, he said. The drug is suspected in the recent overdose death of Derry resident and Pinkerton Academy graduate Brittany Flannigan at the House of Blues nightclub in Boston. Thomas said there has been only one case involving Molly in the past year, and it was for possession.
While drug crimes were up from 2011 to 2012, the statistics show robberies declined from 12 in 2011 to 5 in 2012. Five years ago, 22 robberies were reported and there were 5 in 2002.
Many robberies committed in town involve physical force, or what is known as strong-arm robberies. Drugs are often involved in these crimes, or “drug rips, ” he said. For example, someone goes to buy drugs but instead of receiving the drugs, the cash is stolen and the person leaves empty handed. Thomas said he is stunned at how people sometimes react following these crimes.
“It’s amazing to me when people come in here and want to report that they’ve been ripped off because they went to buy drugs and the person stole their cash,” Thomas said.
He added that police usually thank the person for telling them and end up still investigating the crime.
Better technology has improved surveillance cameras, as technology has changed from VCR systems to today’s digital systems, Thomas said. Police are able to access better images of suspects and release them to the public more quickly and efficiently.
Criminals are also in tune with the digital age and are using technology in creative ways to commit crimes, he said. Credit card crime is growing as criminals sometimes use portable scanners to take someone’s credit information. It could be at an event such as Derryfest or at a restaurant, Thomas said. Information can be scanned twice and the customer is, in turn, charged twice, Thomas said.
“It’s convenient as heck for the person who is the vendor,” Thomas said, adding that once the information is obtained, it can be used for a number of illegal activities.
Some Derry residents saWhen asked if Derry residents were safer today than they were 10 years ago, Thomas said the 56-member department has fewer officers on patrol now than back then.
“We have very well-trained people that are conducting the law enforcement work in Derry,” he said. “To say it’s safer would be unfair for me to answer anyway. I could tell you today things are good and tomorrow we could have thee homicides.”
As for what advice he would offer to help residents stay safer, Thomas said: “I would not want to make someone sit back and relax. I would just ask everybody to be hyper vigilant.”
“There is a whole group of people out there that don’t want to bother us with the stuff that goes on in their neighborhood,” he said. “Please don’t do that. If you see something going wrong, call us when it’s happening so that we can help. And that keeps these statistics low.”