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Wintery weather doesn’t cut NH crime, but it can change it

Union Leader Correspondent

March 09. 2014 6:20PM

A winter wonderland can mean a change in the type of crimes police departments see across the Granite State, but in most places, including summer vacation spots, snow and cold doesn’t mean police can relax.

“We’re not seeing less crime,” said Lt. Dean Rondeau of the Wolfeboro Police Department, “but we see a shift in the type and level of crimes that occur in the winter.”

Winter blues

In the summer, Wolfeboro police are busy with traffic stops, drunken driving arrests and other problems that are common to a community that balloons in size during the warm weather. But after the summer folks head home and the dark of winter descends on New Hampshire, different kinds of problems emerge.

“People are shut in, and the ones who are typically prone to things like drug addiction and domestic violence, and don’t have a lot of skills, aren’t working,” said Rondeau. “They’re busy all summer trying to make a buck, but in the winter they’re idle and often having economic issues, and that’s when we start having trouble.”

Domestic violence and drug-related crimes tend to take up a lot of the police department’s time during the off season, said Rondeau.

At the center of the problem is drug addiction. During the summer, people hooked on opiates like heroin or prescription painkillers often can fund their habits by working to serve the summer population. But when that work dries up, the addicts are left with an expensive habit, but no way to pay for it, so they often turn to crime.

“Whether it’s 80 degrees or minus 20, they’re going to be out there trying to get drugs if they need it,” said Tilton Police Chief Robert Cormier.

Off-season risks

Whether folks have left their summer homes behind for the winter or are just off on vacation for a week or two, burglars can use winter to their advantage.

Rondeau said owners of summer homes that are cut off during the winter because the roads leading to them aren’t maintained can be unpleasantly surprised when the weather gets warmer.

“Come spring, we will get a proliferation of reports of past-tense burglaries as people come to open their camps or homes and realize they’ve been burglarized,” said Rondeau.

Keeping tabs on houses when their owners are on vacation has helped Jaffrey police cut down on the number of burglaries that happen in the winter.

“Our department does vacant property checks on a frequent basis that we think also contributes to a lower burglary number for those residents that spend the winter in warmer places than here,” said Jaffrey Chief Bill Oswalt. “That, along with a commitment to a regular patrol presence in the neighborhoods, has had a positive impact for keeping burglaries down.”

Rondeau and other chiefs said solving burglaries is much easier when there’s snow on the ground because thieves inevitably leave footprints that can either be followed or used to make impressions to determine the kind of shoes the thief was wearing.

Cabin fever

Domestic violence calls increase when there have been several days or weeks of bad weather, said Cormier, as people begin to suffer from cabin fever and tension in the home builds.

In Jaffrey, Oswalt has seen years where domestic violence spikes in the winter — sometimes right around the holidays and sometimes in the dead of winter — but it’s not a predictable trend.

Though his community is busy with campers in the summer, Greenfield Police Chief Brian Giammarino said the big problem for his department in the winter comes from folks who try to drink their way through the season.

“You would think we’d see more alcohol-related problems during the summer, but it’s during the winter that things really get bad,” said Giammarino.

Plymouth Police Chief Stephen Lefebvre says the most notable difference his department sees in winter is a drastic increase in mental health problems. “Starting just around the holidays and through the month of March, there is always a significant increase in calls for service relating to mental health issues,” Lefebvre said.

Party time

In Durham, home of the University of New Hampshire, the cold sends revelers inside, which reduces the number of complaints police receive about loud parties, said Chief David Kurz.

But in Waterville Valley, where folks flock to ski, partiers can be a challenge.

“We are a place to recreate, and the majority of guests to the valley do so responsibly,” said Chief David Noyes. “There is a small percentage of the population that makes up our alcohol- and drug-related crimes — possession of marijuana and underage drinking mostly.”

Still the same

Some towns don’t see any significant changes from season to season, including Sunapee, Colebrook, Franklin and in Lebanon, where Police Chief Gary Smith said it’s the same crimes all the time.

“The most common crimes we deal with — assaults, thefts, theft-related offenses, drug offenses, etc. — will be variant month to month, but there does not appear to be a trend as far as seasonal or changes in the weather,” Smith said.

In Goffstown, crimes against people and property actually tend to decrease in the winter, said Capt. Rob Browne. Unfortunately, the decrease in those kinds of crimes is offset by an increase in motor vehicle crashes during bad weather, which keeps officers running, said Browne.

“The streets of Goffstown do not roll up in the cold weather,” he said.

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