Providence’s Most Dangerous Neighborhoods
Friday, December 13, 2013
In June, a gang shooting at public housing in Hartford Park killed a 12-year-old girl, Aynis Vargas. Three other bystanders were shot. Police arrested five individuals involved in the shooting, including one juvenile.
“When you have 9-year-old, 10-year-old kids getting arrested with guns, it's sad,” said Ward 4 councilman Nicholas Narducci Jr. “If they had other things to do they wouldn't be on the streets.”
There have been 14 homicides in Providence this year to date, with more than half of those occurring in just two of nine police districts, covering the city's south and west ends.
The city declared its fourteenth homicide just yesterday, following an investigation into the November death of 78-year old Delor M. Cabral. This homicide was a result of a violent home invasion and brutal beating by two Providence men in the city's Elmwood neighborhood.
In the latest crime comparison report provided by the department, through December 8, most violent crimes were down over 2012, a year that saw 17 homicides. (That number was 12 in 2011.)
Citywide, the number of forcible sex offenses is down 21 percent this year, while the number of robberies with a firearm is down 20 percent. Other robberies are up over last year by 11 percent, however, and aggravated assaults with a firearm are up 13 percent.
Total violent crime is down one percentage point from 2012, while property crime remains unchanged.
See Which Providence Neighborhoods Have The Most Violent Crime In The Slides Below
“The bottom line is, we need to get more police officers on the streets,” said Ward 6 Councilman Michael Correia. “Police are doing an excellent job with the resources we have.”
Narducci agreed, saying his primary concern now was adding officers.
The Providence Police Department's 67th academy this year, the first school since 2008, initially looked to hire about 40, although Narducci tallied a number closer to 65 expected to join the force soon.
Working with the smallest force in two decades due to budget cuts, the department shed more than 60 staff between 2011 and 2012 through incentivized retirements and vacant positions left unfilled.
Crime too high, but long-term trend is lower
While the crime numbers are too high, some say the long-term trend is down.
“The public perception is that there's been mayhem. That's not true,” said Teny Gross, the executive director of the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence, an organization in Providence's south side that sprung up in 2001 in response to an alarming number of violent deaths.
In 1999, the city witnessed 26 murders. In 2000, that number rose to 30.
Today, both the police department and organizations like the institute have been impacted by massive recent cuts in federal funding.
Next year's budget adds approximately $5 million for policing over the current fiscal plan, but that number is still far below previous years: $65,470,568 next year compared to $77,711,483 in 2008 according to city documents.
According to Gross, whose organization works with youth to reduce violence, particularly gang-related, there's a lag between actual crime and the community's perception of it.
“We're coming off a decade where police were abundant,” Gross said, contrasting crime today with that when the institute was founded. “We're now living off the peace dividend.”
Crime data district by district
Sorting through this year's data by police district shows changes in crime trends. Among those areas to see a rise in violent crime are district 2, which includes Upper and Lower South Providence and Elmwood (up 13 percent over 2012); district 5, a combination of Olneyville, Hartford, and Silver Lake (up 9 percent this year); and district 6, which includes Manton, Mount Pleasant, Valley, and parts of Elmhurst (up 10 percent).
Districts 2 and 5 report the most violent crimes and tally four and three homicides apiece, respectively.
Correia said his biggest public safety concerns were violent crime and gun violence, in addition to quality of life issues which “face every neighborhood here in the city,” and every city across the nation.
“We try to work with our neighborhood youth,” he said. “We all need to live, work, and play here in the community.”
Community policing and crime watches
The previous head of his ward's crime watch, Correia pointed to those neighborhood groups for their assistance. “We ask them to be the eyes and ears on their community streets.”
In monthly watch meetings across the city, police hear concerns directly from residents. “That has helped a lot to have a line of communication,” said Councilwoman Sabina Matos, the Ward 15 representative, who said car break-ins have become a recent concern.
Susan Derita, a coordinator for one of the oldest crime watch groups in Elmhurst, said the watches worked to keep people informed.
“It really started off as a suggestion of the neighborhood police officer,” 18 years ago, she said. “Providence being as small as it is, there really are no borders between different areas.”
With a growth in the number of watches in recent years, tripling to 15, there has also been increasing cooperation between those groups.
“A crime watch works best when neighbors simply look after other neighbors and take it one next step to creating a network of easy and quick mode communication,” said Monica Anderson, with the Hope neighborhood watch group. Before while living on Fifth Street, Anderson said her home was broken into and she didn't know her neighbors.
“Do I think a crime watch would have prevented the break in? I don't know the answer for sure, but I would have felt a bit more secure that night if I knew how to contact one of my neighbors if I needed a hand.”
Solutions include more officers on the streets, jobs
This past October, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse joined Taveras and others in announcing a $150,000 federal grant to reduce gun and gang violence in the city. The Project Safe Neighborhoods Program grant will support partnerships between police, district attorneys, the nonviolence institute's Streetworkers program, and the Roger Williams University School of Justice Studies to focus on crime reduction initiatives.
“Ideally, we should have more patrols, more community policing, to get to know the neighbors and the youth in the community,” Matos said.
“Beat patrols, beat patrols are big,” echoed Narducci. “But to have beat patrols you need the numbers.” In addition to programs for youth and more officers, he also advocated for mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders.
Gross, whose institute teaches nonviolence to students, police, and community members modeled around Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s philosophy, said addressing unemployment would go a long way toward resolving crime.
“If people are leading productive lives, they're paying taxes,” instead of costing tax dollars, he said.
Related Slideshow: Providence’s Most Dangerous Neighborhoods
Each week, the Providence Police Department releases its "Weekly Crime Comparison Report" on its website. The breakdown covers how many crimes have occured in the past week, past month, and year to date in each Police District and comparing them with the same time interval from the year prior, reflecting changes in crime rates. GoLocal has distilled the key data points from this weeks report to reflect YTD crime data grouped by general category- violent, property, other, and total. We ranked the districts by 2013 violent crimes to date. For the full report as filed by the PPD, click here.
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