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Crime declines in Boston in beginning of 2013

Community policing, wintry weather credited

Major crimes in Boston dropped 15 percent in the first three months of 2013 compared with the same period last year, and Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis credited good police work and an assist from Mother Nature for the decline.

“I would attribute it to a few things — one is the weather,” Davis said. “We’ve certainly had a lot of snow this year, and that keeps people inside.”

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Between Jan. 1 and March 18 this year, there were seven killings, compared with eight in the same period in 2012, according to police department statistics. Rapes and attempted rapes dropped by 25 percent; robbery by 7 percent; aggravated assaults by 16 percent; burglary by 8 percent; larceny by 17 percent; and vehicle theft by 14 percent.

However, shootings and firearm-related arrests are on the rise.

Davis said he considers the overall numbers “a very important start to the year.”

“Whenever you see double-digit reductions in crime, even when it’s in a short period of time, it bodes well,” he said.

Police are getting out of their cars and walking their beats, he said. Safe Street Teams composed of six officers and a sergeant are regularly deployed to monitor hot spots, and resident watch groups are springing up across the city.

“Community policing is the core of it — the police officers are out on the street,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said of the reason for the drop in crime. “Same cops, same beat. That works out real well. You have neighborhood crime watches. I believe that’s the real heart of solving crimes in the neighborhood.”

In 2012, 103 crime watch groups were formed, bring the total in Boston to 288, city officials said.

“I can feel the change in Boston,” said Monalisa Smith, who founded the Boston antiviolence group Mothers for Justice and Equality after her nephew was shot to death in 2010. “More people are working together.”

But, Smith said, the city still has a long way to go.

“I think we’re still seeing our young people fall victim to crime, and also be the perpetrators,” she said, ticking off a list of recent violent events, including the Feb. 28 shooting death of a 26-year-old man at the Dudley MBTA stop in Roxbury. “Crime is down, that’s what the statistics say — but one is too many for us.”

And while major crimes are down, gun crime is up. By March 18, there were six shooting deaths in Boston, compared with five in the same period last year; nonfatal shootings are up 20 percent and firearm-related arrests are up 11 percent.

“These incidents are usually a result of retaliatory action,” Davis said of the rise. “You have spikes in that activity throughout the year. We’ve had a couple of challenges in a couple of neighborhoods, but I think overall we’re happy with the success we’ve had over the last couple years.”

Still, the shootings have rattled some neighborhoods, including Roxbury, where 13-year-old Gabriel Clarke lives. Clarke was shot in the stomach in January as he walked to church on a Friday evening.

“We’re still battling gun crime in the inner city,” said the Rev. Nigel G. David, Clarke’s pastor at the Berea Seventh Day Adventist Church on Seaver Street.

“No matter what the percentage is that’s dropped, we still have that horrific crime that happened.”

Clarke is recovering, David said, but gets anxious when he’s out on the street.

Still, David has noticed a dramatic increase in police presence in the neighborhood since the shooting. Officers have even come to church with Clarke and sat through services on several occasions, he said.

“I believe they went beyond the call of duty trying to reassure the family,” David said of police. Having officers out and about, he said, keeps people in line.

Others caution against reading too much into the recent crime numbers.

“Ten weeks do not a trend make,” said Thomas Nolan, who was a Boston police officer for 27 years and now lectures at Tufts University and the Urban College of Boston. “I think that the mildest winter in recent memory followed by the harshest winter in recent memory probably has more to do with that 15 percent drop in crime than anything the police are doing.”

Menino said he believes the recent numbers are part of a larger trend.

“I don’t care if it’s one week, or two weeks, or six years,” he said. “If it’s a drop in crime, I’m gonna support it. I’m gonna say it’s a good thing for us.”

Davis said he expected the decline to continue for the year, though not in the double digits.

“Our most dangerous months are the summer months, and we know we have a lot of work to do to prepare for that,” he said.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com.
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