By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: July 09, 2009
Strings of vehicle break-ins and vandalism and the occasional vicious beating or stabbing may lead some to believe that Keene’s streets are getting meaner, but crime statistics show little change over the last six years.
Even in light of rough economic times, which typically parallel a spike in shoplifting — people begin stealing groceries or other necessities they can no longer afford — the Elm City’s property crime rate remains stable.
The city’s social programs, such as The Community Kitchen, which provides food to area residents in need, play a significant role in curbing crime, Keene police Lt. Jay U. Duguay said.
“We’re behind the nation when it comes to economic issues. People are still losing their homes and jobs, but overall we haven’t felt the effects of it yet,” he said. “Right now it’s wait-and-see.”
During the last six years, Keene police have received an average of 490 reports dealing with larceny or theft. Last year they took 667 reports of larceny or theft, the highest number of those types of crimes since 2002, which saw 604 reports.
From the beginning of this year to the end of April, there were 202 reports of larceny and theft, slightly higher than the 147 during the same period last year, and 33 burglaries, which is on par with previous years.
“There’s going to be periods with a little influx, but for the most part it’s steady,” Duguay said. “I was actually kind of surprised at how consistent the numbers were.”
In 2004 and 2005, property crime rates dipped dramatically. While 2003 saw 557 larcenies and thefts, that number hit 272 the following year and then slightly increased to 286 the next year before rising to 455 in 2006.
“We didn’t change our patrol procedures during those times (2004 and 2005) and we weren’t up to full staff. So I don’t know why those years are lower,” Duguay said. “I think the more consistent number is the high number, but thank goodness for the lows.”
Violent crime reports in Keene have also remained steady over the last several years, with an average of 366 assaults annually.
Between 20 and 30 sex assaults are reported in the city each year, though only a small fraction of those cases result in arrests because the others lack sufficient evidence, Duguay said.
Statistics only tell part of the story, though. For the crime victims, the numbers hold little meaning.
Mitchell J. Farrell was staying in Keene on business June 25 when someone broke into his vehicle and stole his medications, GPS unit and two chargers. Farrell said he left the vehicle unlocked while he went for a walk at about 7:30 p.m., and it was ransacked when he returned.
“To have all of that stolen out of my car during the short time it was unlocked just shocked me, the boldness of it,” he said. “To be honest, it makes me think that Keene is no different from Boston or New York City or Chicago. I’ve been to all those cities and I’ve never had a problem.”
Farrell, who lives in Lake View, N.Y., about 17 miles south of Buffalo, said he was left a little shaken after his experience in Keene.
“I don’t even have a lock and key for my door at home. I haven’t been a victim of a crime since the late ’70s when my bicycle was stolen,” he said. “They went through all the compartments in my car. I was pretty angry, but what are you going to do? It’s just a strange feeling.”
For each of Keene’s 46 police officers, there are about 496 full-time residents and 114 Keene State College students.
“The calls for service have continuously gone up, but we’ve basically had the same number of officers for years. The officers are always busy,” Duguay said. “But no matter how we do our patrols, if people would just lock their doors and protect their property the number of crimes of opportunity we have would go way down.”
At least 10 unlocked vehicles in Keene were broken into over the weekend, and many similar crimes have been committed this year and in previous years. Thieves are simply trying door handles and making off with expensive cell phones, GPS units, cash, clothing and other personal belongings.
Walking along Main Street on Wednesday afternoon, Kim Mooney said she wasn’t threatened by property crime in Keene. She recently moved to Keene from a more rural community in upstate New York.
“This is a big city to me, and I feel very safe here,” she said. “You don’t see the violent crimes, only petty property crimes.”
Another resident, Tyson Bailey, also said he felt that the criminal element in the city was insignificant.
“I’ve lived in Keene for four years,” he said. “I’ve never had any issues.”
State Rep. Steven W. Lindsey, who was robbed while working as a taxi driver two years ago, said he believes crime is on the decline in Keene, though he’s not sure why.
“I live on Marlboro Street in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city and things just seem to be mellower,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s something in the water or what.”