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Stats show residents have reason to feel safer in Somerville

Posted by Marcia Dick  October 20, 2011 10:04 AM

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Since moving to Somerville about a month ago, Chris Wolcott  has noticed how safe the streets felt. He also noticed a strong police presence: During a quick drive from Davis Square to Central Square – less than 4 miles  – he saw four policemen patrolling different streets.

Experts say he was right on both counts – and the result is a drop in crime in what was once considered one of Boston’s more dangerous areas. Violent crime in Somerville has decreased for the first time since 2007, according to FBI statistics released last month. From 2009 to 2010, the overall crime rate, which includes property crime, decreased about 5 percent, from 3,018  per 100,000 to 2,862 per 100,000 . Violent crime dropped nearly 25 percent, from 415  violent crimes per 100,000 residents to 315.

Click here to see the crime stats.
 
Deputy Chief Paul Upton  said he credits the decrease to several factors, including increased police presence in areas where crimes are more likely to be committed, more community involvement, and “a little bit of good luck.”

But Somerville should not pat itself on the back just yet, he said.

“I think Somerville’s numbers are going to continue to go down a little bit, but we can’t sit back and say we’re successful,” Upton said.

He pointed specifically to Somerville’s annual domestic violence candlelight vigil, a yearly ceremony held to remember domestic violence victims and to raise awareness. “We can’t say 211 domestic violence cases is good because it’s however many fewer than last year, because that’s still 211 too many,” he said.

Somerville police, who believe residents can still do more to prevent crime, also are taking part in the national “See Something, Say Something” campaign. The effort urges the public to contact the police if they see any suspicious activity.

Somerville officers who conducted a neighborhood canvas after several cars were robbed, for example, were surprised by how many people saw something and didn’t report it, Upton said.

“The rationale just doesn’t cut it if you want to reduce crime,” he said. “We go out there and we’ll do the heavy lifting, but we’re asking the community to keep their eyes and their ears open and tell us when something doesn’t look right.”

Somerville’s total crime rate for 2010 was higher than the Massachusetts average, but lower than in neighboring cities, including Cambridge and Malden, FBI statistics show.

Today, Somerville’s violent crime rate is less than a third of what it was in 1997, when it peaked at 960  per 100,000.

Many residents say the area does feel safer in recent years and suggest part of the reason stems from changing demographics. The telecommunications and biotechnology boom of the late 1990s, the improvement of Davis Square, the promotion of arts and culture, and the walkability of the city have helped attract a more affluent population, residents say.

“The yuppies are coming in with their little 2-, 3-year-olds,” said Richard MacDonald, a lifelong Somerville resident.

MacDonald has lived in the same house on Albion Street near Somerville Hospital  for the past 62 years. Over his lifetime, he has seen how Somerville has become wealthier and safer. He has watched Davis Square transform from an area “full of dirty bars” into a neighborhood with an eclectic mix of restaurants and shops.

Valentin Prince, a Somerville resident for seven years, said the city has always seemed safe to him though he knew that was not always the case.

“I know it used to be called ‘Slumerville,” he said. “Now it’s turned into the next Cambridge.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between The Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

Erika Smith can be reached at ewsmith@bu.edu.

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