Rhode Island’s Most Violent Cities and Towns: FBI Crime Data

Friday, September 20, 2013


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The FBI released 2012 crime data this week. What does it mean for Rhode Island?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released its 2012 crime statistics earlier this week, breaking down data on a state by state -- and community - basis.

The information reported includes violent crimes -- murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault, and robbery -- as well as property crimes including burglary, larceny/theft, and motor vehicle theft, as well as arson.

See How Rhode Island Communities Ranked HERE

For 2012, the FBI estimated that nationally, the number of property crimes decreased .9 percent over the previous year -- but that violent crimes increased .7 percent, which the FBI reported was virtually unchanged when compared to the 2011 rate.

The "Crime in the United States" report is a "statistical compilation of offense and arrest data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program," according to the FBI.  

"We don't interpret data, we refer people back to criminologists for crime trends," said FBI Boston Media Coordinator Special Agent Greg Comcowich. "We simply put out the stats, and it's our policy not to comment, or interpret them."

GoLocal talked with Colonel Steve O'Donnell with the Rhode Island State Police, Peg Langhammer with Day One, and Dennis Hillard with the RI State Crime Lab about the role of reported crime data, and what it means -- and doesn't mean -- to Rhode Island.  

O'Donnell on Data

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"We analyze data all the time, and look at crime patterns, and talk with the police chiefs of those jurisdictions," Rhode Island State Police Chief Colonel Steven O'Donnell told GoLocal.  

O'Donnell noted that it was continually updated local information that was equally, if not more important.

"Neighborhood response teams that we assemble are a result of that. We work with Providence to flood certain areas when needed," said O'Donnell, noting that the approach has been expanded to North Providence and Central Falls, and that he had been in talks with Woonsocket police for possible assistance.

"Our Alcohol Compliance Task Force is the outcome of looking at alcohol-related crimes and formulating a response," he said of the recent initiative to work collaboratively among agencies on addressing safety issues associated with nightclubs, consumption of alcohol by underage persons, as well as other alcohol related offenses.

"We'll go into troubled areas, whether it be Providence with the clubs, or Narragansett where students are," said O'Donnell. "The crime data doesn't always tell you the underlying problems - if someone is intoxicated, they might put themselves in a position to be a victim of crime."

Accuracy of Sexual Assault Numbers  

Peg Langhammer, Executive Director of Day One, whose mission is to reduce the prevalence of sexual abuse and violence, and to support and advocate for those affected by it, spoke with GoLocal about the data.

Regarding forcible rape, which is one of the categories in the FBI crime stats, Langhammer said, "What we know, and what we say, is that most sexual assaults are not reported," noting that 1 in 6 rapes are reported to law enforcement.

"So regarding the data reported specifically this year by the FBI, it's hard to determine whether there's been an increase, or decrease, in sexual assaults," she continued.

Langhammer said that depending on the definition, "Forcible rape is female sexual assault -- we treat a significant number of boys. 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18. The prevalence is so high, and this is just the tip of the iceberg."

"Our goal is to make our services accessible to adults, children, men, and women," said Langhammer of Day One, who provides services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other violent crimes and educates the public throughout the state of Rhode Island.  "Our 24 hour Victim of Crime hotline is 1-800-494-8100."

Reporting Data Utilized by State Crime Lab

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The Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory at URI, which offers a "range of scientific services for all appropriate agencies investigating evidence related to federal, state, or local crimes," uses the data to further its work.  

"We use this data in terms of applying for grants," said Dennis Hillard, who has been with the Laboratory since 1980, explaining that crime trends often dictate what is being looked at in the labs.

"Back in the '70s, it was drug chemistry -- analysis of white powders, that type of thing. DNA's been big for the past couple of decades," said Hillard, of the evidence-based research that labs look to federal funding to assist -- and further -- their efforts.

Hillard noted that a bulk of their work currently was looking at evidence for "B&E" -- breaking and entering. "The health department focuses on DNA, and toxicology for the medical examiner's office. We focus here on firearms, fingerprints, and "trace" evidence -- hairs, fibers, footprints."

"So we use the data reported by local police departments and the FBI and use the info to make the case for the need of what we're requesting in a grant application."

Hillard noted while the majority of funding for the lab is through state allocation, there were fewer funds federally, which has been further exacerbated by sequestration.

"The impact has been predominantly in funds for training, as well as the FBI's ability to send field agents here," noting that URI hosted a forensics conference during the past year to which FBI were invited, but only NIST reps were able to make.

Hillard noted that the immediacy of having data available made for increased spotting of trends, and where to put research efforts. "Before computers, there as a major lag time in reporting. Now we're able to get the stats quickly, and wrap them in a grant application package. "


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