Major crime in Boston dropped 9 percent between 2014 and 2015, bringing the figure to its lowest point in a decade, according to Boston police statistics, with reductions in homicides, robberies, residential burglaries, rapes, auto thefts, and larcenies.
Arrests, too, hit their lowest point in 10 years, dropping 15 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to the statistics.
“We’re doing our best to make these gains by keeping kids out of the system, and giving them jobs and opportunities,” said Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans. “We can’t lock kids up to achieve what we’re doing.”
But while homicides were down, nonfatal shootings rose by 19 percent, from 177 to 211, and there were more shooting incidents that involved multiple victims. Evans said gun violence was his “number one priority” going forward.
“Nothing bothers us more than losing someone to violence in our city,” said Evans, who pointed out that though there were only 33 gun homicides in 2015, shooters were firing recklessly and hitting multiple people at a time in some cases.
It stands in contrast with some other big cities, such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Milwaukee, which have seen big increases in homicides. Overall, though, according to FBI statistics, violent crime has been dropping nationally recently; in 2014, the estimated violent crime total fell more than 16 percent below the 2005 level.
Evans and community activists attributed Boston’s drop in crime this year to outreach work by the police department and engagement from the people of the city.
The department in 2015 held scores of youth-police dialogues and meetings with community members; officers participated in about 55 peace walks, drove the department ice cream truck through neighborhoods, gave away toys at Christmas, and held movie nights, cookouts, and a family appreciation day.
“I can remember a time when the city was more violent than it is now, and community activists would say . . . ‘This kid over here may be selling drugs or in a gang, but he is looking for a family, a relationship, looking to get back to school,’ and the cops said, ‘Bah, that’s social work,’ ” said the Rev. Mark V. Scott, associate pastor of Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester. “But then they went and began to do social work. To do community work.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh praised the police department but conceded “there is always more work to be done.’’
Between 2014 and 2015, reports of rape and attempted rape dropped 22 percent in the city; robbery dropped 9 percent; residential burglary dropped 7 percent; larceny from motor vehicles dropped 20 percent; and auto theft dropped 13 percent. Homicides fell from 53 in 2014 to 40 in 2015.
Nondomestic aggravated assault rose by 7 percent, which Evans said reflected an increase in incidents such as bar fights and fights among the homeless, but also a change last year in the department’s record management system that led to a brief spike in simple assaults being misclassified as aggravated assaults. Commercial burglary increased by 6 percent, and “other burglary,” a new category that includes burglary from structures like sheds, rose from one instance in 2014 to 99 in 2015.
“We’re at a stage in our city where we have to solve the conundrum of ending what I call ‘The era of violence,’ ” said the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, who said that even when homicides drop, if shots are fired frequently, people don’t feel safe. “That’s more than just the law enforcement problem. That’s a community problem. That’s a city problem.”
A major factor in preventing violence, said activists, is treating trauma: Young people who lose friends and loved ones to violence or experience violence themselves can be vulnerable to more trouble as they deal with despair, anger, and heartbreak.
The city has sought to address trauma, said Monalisa Smith, founder and president of Mothers for Justice and Equality, a Roxbury-based organization that aims to end neighborhood violence.
In December, she said, two young men in her organization’s youth program came to her and said that their friend had committed suicide in front of them. They were not getting any help, they said. “My heart is hurting,” one of them told her.
Smith called the Boston Public Health Commission and its director of trauma services Courtney Grey came straight over, she said. Grey set them and the mother of one up with counseling services, she said. The young men did not have to go to a hospital or treatment center where they might have felt awkward or nervous, Smith said, but rather they got immediate help in a place where they were comfortable.
“What we find with young people is they move around silently,” she said. “If we don’t treat these type of things right away, they’re going to be the shooter, they’re going to be the suicide victim.”
Many of the types of crimes that dropped last year, said Evans, are ones that directly affect quality of life. Residential burglary and robberies, particularly, he said, upset people’s feelings of safety and security.
“Those two are the main indicators to me of how a neighborhood is doing,” said Evans. “They personally violate your space.”
And while police have little control over some types of crime, such as homicide and rape, officers can have a direct impact on the frequency of burglaries, robberies, and property crimes, said Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer who is now a criminology professor at Merrimack College.
He pointed to the dramatic reduction in larceny from motor vehicles as an encouraging trend in a crime that has plagued the city for years. “It owes at least in part to police being out there, to police being visible, to police being responsive to complaints,” said Nolan.
In both 2014 and 2015, police made about 440 firearm-related arrests.
“The bad news,” said Nolan, “is that there are so many guns in the first place.”