City follows national crime decline

According to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics released last week, New Haven is keeping up with a national trend of crime reduction.

The uniform crime report released last week by the FBI shows a continuous decline in violent crime nationally over the past two decades, with 1,932,274 nationwide cases of violent crime reported in 1992, but only 1,251,248 cases in 2010 and an all-time low of 1,203,564 violent crime incidents last year. Following this national trend, New Haven reported a crime reduction from 1,992 incidents in 2010 to 1,748 incidents in 2011. Last year, the violent crime rate was almost half of what it was in 1992, when 3,233 violent crimes were reported.

Mark Abraham ’04, executive director of DataHaven, a nonprofit organization that compiles and shares public statistics for the Greater New Haven and Valley region, attributed the decline in violent crime to the tactics of New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman. Esserman — who was appointed to the head of NHPD leadership last November — has adopted a “more aggressive” approach to the issues that were facing the Elm City, Abraham said, by bringing an updated model of his community policing strategy to New Haven.

Last year, New Haven saw 34 homicides, the highest homicide count in the city since 1991. But since Esserman’s implementation of community policing, only 12 homicides have occurred within the Elm City.

“I hope New Haven continues to make this type of progress that we’ve seen,” Abraham said.

The reported figures have already made the headlines of several news agencies that have ranked cities by what they calculated as each city’s per capita crime. But in its report, the FBI cautioned against using these statistics to compile rankings of these sorts, as they typically “provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular [area]” and consequently lead to “simplistic” and “incomplete” analyses that create “misleading” perceptions about certain areas. City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said this was the case with New Haven.

Abraham, who wrote an opinion piece for the New Haven Register on this subject in June 2011, said such rankings are “inaccurate and counterproductive,” as municipalities with identical populations might occupy extremely different land areas. Additionally, there is “tremendous variability” in the way police departments across the nation treat crime reports, Abraham said.

“It’s like comparing apples to oranges,” he added.

Such highly publicized rankings published by news agencies, Abraham added, can distort the image of New Haven, especially for prospective students and incoming freshmen. Instead, he said, it is more important to focus on the overall crime trends within the city, which have decreased significantly from their highs in the early 1990s both in New Haven and nationwide.

“These rankings give University students a false understanding of the community they are going to be living in,” Abraham said.

In particular, the 2011 figures detailed 55 instances of forcible rapes, 766 robberies and 893 aggravated assaults.

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