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Manchester chief credits computer modeling for dip in crime

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 30. 2016 10:20PM


MANCHESTER — Overall crime in the city has dropped 17 percent since Jan. 1, Police Chief Nick Willard said, the result of the department using a computer-generated program that predicts where a crime may take place.

A 19 percent drop in property crime is what drives the overall decrease. Last year at this time, there were 173 burglaries; this year there have been 118. In 2015 through March 27, the city had 612 larcenies; this year there were 524. Auto thefts dropped from 49 last year to 28 so far this year, and there were four arsons in 2015 and six so far this year.

Violent crime — rape, robbery and aggravated assault — remain about the same as last year.

According to statistics provided by the police department, from Jan. 1, 2015, through March 27, 2015, there were no homicides, but there were 50 robberies, 16 forcible rapes and 70 aggravated assaults. Through March 27 of this year, there have been no homicides, but there were 16 forcible rapes, 46 robberies and 73 aggravated assaults.

It comes out to one less violent crime so far this year compared to the same time period in 2015.

However, over the last seven years crime overall has increased by 19 percent, with two years showing a decrease — 8 percent in 2011 and 6 percent in 2013.

“The good news, and something I am hopeful for, is that our change in methodology, through predictive analytics, will see a sustained decrease in crime,” Willard said Tuesday.

Robert Tourigny, executive director of NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire, which creates affordable housing and has revitalized inner city neighborhoods, said residents have noticed an increase in police presence. He said there has been about a 25 percent difference in reported crimes between the fourth quarter of 2015 and the first quarter in 2016, according to Crime Mapping.

“Although residents are still concerned about the amount of crime that’s occurring, I’ll add that the increase in the police presence in these neighborhoods has been noticed and we are a strong believer in community policing,” he said in an email. “Having residents know the officers who patrol their neighborhood by name is an important part of that “

Willard said crime is driven by heroin addicts looking for money to buy more drugs. Last year, crime increased 3 percent (that statistic is preliminary until the state validates it), but would have been much higher if the department had not partnered in mid-July with IBM and began using “hot spot” computer-generated predictive analysis.

The program cost about $50,000, has no annual fee and includes free upgrades and service, Willard said.

From July 2015, when the department began using the new computer-generated information providing in-time crime mapping for the city, to Dec. 31, 2015, crime dropped 4 percent, according to Willard.

Today, when officers arrive to work, they are given the latest data concerning where a robbery or burglary might happen, based on the computer-generated information extracted from prior events.

“Patrol officers love it,” he said. “If time allows during the officer’s shift, the officer will go to that area in an attempt to prevent a crime or intercept one.”

Willard became chief in July 2015, when the department was down 21 officers because of retirements and resignations. Money was in the budget to staff 237 officers, but the hiring of new officers is a long process.

Willard decided to beef up patrols by paying officers overtime until new officers were hired. He then contacted state police Col. Robert Quinn and asked him to partner with the department in “Operation Cyan.” It meant adding five cruisers, each manned with a city officer and a state trooper, to patrol city streets on certain days and at hours when crimes were predicted to occur.

The beefed-up patrols ran from early September 2015 through mid-March, resulting in the arrest of 124 people and 2,018 motor vehicle stops, with 664 motor vehicle summonses issued. Willard said it cost the city $42,000.

The operation ended with the recent hiring of 15 new officers.

“The direct result of the preliminary first quarter crime reduction of 17 percent is a direct reflection of the men and women of the Manchester Police Department who truly have bought into our new policing methodology,” Willard said.

Willard said he is hoping to find grants to continue the operation.

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