Mild winter blamed for crime spike in Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements said Tuesday an unseasonably warm winter was at least partially to blame for a large increase in violent crimes and property crimes during the first 11 weeks of 2016.

The city saw 240 reported violent crimes between Jan. 1 and March 20, a 38% increase compared to the same period in 2015, according to data published by the Providence Police Department Tuesday. Property crimes are up 19% from last year.

Using standards established by the FBI, the city defines violent crimes as homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults, and defines property crimes as burglaries, larcenies, motor vehicle thefts and arson cases.

“There are so many factors, but without question, weather was a factor,” Clements told WPRI.com.

Clements said the city has seen a significant spike in robberies, particularly involving pizza delivery workers and cell phones. The Providence Journal reported Tuesday that at least 13 pizzas delivery drivers have been robbed since the beginning of the year.

Clements said the significant uptick suggests “it’s not just one or two teams” of suspects committing the crimes. He said the incidents have occurred “all over the map,” but noted that the West End and North End neighborhoods have been hit hardest.

The city reported 88 robberies in 2016, compared to 52 at the same time a year ago. Aggravated assaults, which include shootings, have risen from 84 to 121 this year.  Weapons offenses have also seen a 100% increase, from 41 in 2015 to 82 this year. The city has seen no homicides this year.

Providence saw less snow and warmer temperatures during the first three months of 2016 than it did in 2015 and the criminals likely took advantage, according to Clements. January, February and March typically see fewer violent crimes, according to several years of city crime data reviewed by WPRI.com.

Last month City Councilman David Salvatore, who represents parts of Elmhurst and Wanskuck in the city’s North End, called for a larger police presence in his neighborhood following several shootings. He called Wanskuck “a hot spot for criminal activity.”

“Week after week, our neighborhood continues to suffer from incidents of violent crime,” Salvatore said at the time. “The foundation of a community’s quality of life is built on safety.”

Clements, who has served as police chief since 2012, has largely presided over a significant decrease in crime since taking over as head of the department. In 2014, crime in Providence dropped to its lowest point in at least 29 years in 2014, according to FBI data.

But the chief acknowledged it will be difficult to manage another reduction in crime this year given the early tends.

“It’s on my mind because the numbers are pretty high early in the year,” Clements said.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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