MANCHESTER — Violent crimes reported to police increased by 24 percent in Manchester in 2013 over the previous year, led by a 46 percent jump in robberies.
The 736 reported violent crimes — comprised of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — topped the previous two years, each of which saw 593 such reported crimes, according to Manchester Police Department figures released to the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Police Chief David Mara said much of the city's crime is traced to the need for money to buy illegal drugs.
"Manchester is a safe city, but we are an urban area and we have problems that are associated with being an urban area," Mara said Friday.
The chief said he plans to tell aldermen Tuesday that adding police officers to patrol city streets is his most pressing staffing need. The current force numbers 217, but a city this size should have 250 to 275 officers, Mara said. He's hoping for funding to add officers in next year's city budget.
Mara — who will appear before aldermen at their 7:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall — said his budget allows for 221 officers.
The staffing needs come as some downtown business owners have expressed concerns in recent weeks over employees being apprehensive about walking to their vehicles after dark.
"Perception can be worse than reality," Mara said. "If you don't feel safe, it's just like not being safe."
Will Stewart, from the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said some chamber members are concerned about crime downtown and "aggressive panhandling."
"I will say it's a great concern to the chamber both the perception and the reality because I think to a certain extent perception will influence reality with people maybe not wanting to come to downtown at night or spend their money," said Stewart, the chamber's vice president of economic development and advocacy.
In 2013, police handled 299 reported robberies, compared to 205 in 2012 and 182 in 2011. The city recorded six murders in 2013 versus two each in 2011 and 2012.
Total property crimes — comprised of burglary, larceny, arson and motor vehicle theft — rose by 353 cases to 4,294, or by 9 percent last year compared to 2012. The total figure was slightly higher in 2011, with 4,311 reported property crimes.
In 2013, property and violent crimes totaled 5,030 reported cases — 496 more or 11 percent higher than in 2012. The 2011 total was 4,904.
Mara said his department recently assigned two officers to foot patrols downtown, including parking garages, during weekday evening hours. He said a woman undercover officer also walked areas to see if she could find people harassing women.
Mara said police received a spike in the number of reports of people panhandling. He said police are addressing that, and did so last summer in Veterans Memorial Park and Victory Park.
Police also are hosting safety clinics for businesspeople to learn how to stay safe.
Police Commission member Mark Roy, president of Elm Grove Realty in Manchester, said crime worries are affecting where people choose to live.
"People confide in me all the time Manchester is almost on the brink of turning into a Lawrence (Mass.), or a higher crime area than they'd like to live," said Roy, a former Ward 1 alderman. "The more crime you have, the lower your rentals will be and the less attractive your neighborhood will be."
Roy said he would like to add officers, allowing patrol officers to concentrate on the same areas and build rapport with residents.
"Police officers do a great job with the resources they have," Roy said. "If you have more resources, you can be more proactive."