Despite weekend shootings, crime is down in Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Ask any elected official in Providence about crime in the city and they’ll all say the same thing: “Even one act of violence is too many.”

So when there were four shootings reported in various neighborhoods between late Thursday night and early Monday morning, it was no surprise to hear some leaders sound the alarm bells about violence. One councilman posted a “stop the violence” picture on Facebook.

But a closer look at city records shows reported violent crimes are down 18% in 2017 compared to the same point last year and 11% compared to Providence’s five-year average. As of June 4, the city had seen 395 reported violent crimes, which includes homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. The murder over the weekend was the city’s second homicide of the year.

Property crimes – which include burglaries, larcenies, motor vehicle thefts and arson cases – are also down in 2017. As of June 4, the city saw 2,310 reported property crimes, a 5% reduction from last year and a 13% decrease compared to the five-year average.

(It’s important to note that there is no way to track crime that isn’t reported, so while it’s safe to say city police become aware of every homicide that occurs, it’s less of a guarantee that every robbery or sex offense is reported. The number of calls for service to the police department dropped from 190,000 in 2006 to 124,000 in 2016, according to the city’s annual audit.)

So why are violent crimes and property crimes down this year?

Part of it is a national trend. Even while some cities have seen slight upticks in crime in recent years, overall violent crime in the United States dropped from a high of 1.93 million crimes reported in 1992 to 1.19 million in 2015, according to Uniform Crime Reports published by the FBI.

Even Providence, which saw small increases in crime in 2015 and 2016 after posting its safest year on record in 2014, has seen violent crimes fall more than 40% over the last 26 years.

Providence Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements attributed the drop in crime in 2017 to “intelligence and targeted enforcement” in high-crime neighborhoods in the city. Despite his force falling below 400 uniformed officers, Clements noted gun seizures have been on the rise.

“That sends a message,” Clements told Eyewitness News.

In its weekly crime report, the department separates the city into nine districts. In 2017, only District 7, which includes the area around the Chad Brown Housing Complex and Providence College, has seen an increase in violent crime. As of June 4, the district saw 88 reported violent crimes compared with 70 at the same point last year. In District 3, which includes Washington Park and part of South Providence, violent crime is down 57% in 2017.

Ward 14 Councilman David Salvatore, who represents part of District 7, said he’s concerned the police department’s low staffing levels have led to a spike in crime. Salvatore has been raising concern about violence in his neighborhood for much of the year.

“It is an overwhelmingly large district to cover, especially under current staffing levels,” Salvatore said. “So we’re working closely with the police department to bring those numbers down.”

For his part, Clements is hesitant about highlighting the decrease in crime this year. But he praised his officers for working with community partners to put a dent in the statistics.

“It’s that holistic approach,” he said. “We work closely with all of our partners in the community.”

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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