Statistics can be notoriously misleading, as evidenced by the annual Hartford crime report.
The city achieved a 9.6 percent drop in its aggregate major crime statistics — murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts — in 2008. That was all Mayor Eddie Perez needed to announce that Hartford was making "major strides," that there are "a lot of things we're doing right" and that residents are "experiencing the lowest crime rate in Hartford's recorded history." (He means the past 26 years, when the current computerized system was put in place. Crime rates in the 1950s were lower than in 2008.)
Someone who didn't know better might think it was safe to leave the doors unlocked. That would be unwise. A closer examination of the numbers shows that only small strides have been made in reducing violent crime. Homicides and rapes dropped very slightly, from 33 to 32 and from 74 to 70, respectively. Aggravated assaults increased from 696 to 782.
Many of those involved guns. Shooting incidents rose from 159 to 163 and shooting victims from 178 to 205. That there weren't more homicides appears to have been a matter of marksmanship or medical care.
With these numbers, Mr. Perez should not overplay his hand. Last year saw a former deputy mayor brutally beaten on the street, a nationally televised hit-and-run on Park Street and a shoot-'em-up at the city's West Indian Day Parade. Memories aren't that short. Also, some of the reduction in larcenies comes from a change in state law requiring that motor vehicle registration stickers be put inside windshields instead of on license plates.
That said, we think the Hartford police under Chief Daryl K. Roberts are working hard to quell crime and are making progress. That is evidenced by significant drops in burglaries and auto thefts, and significant increases in arrests for murder and rape.
But as the shooting statistics suggest, the real issue is young men shooting other men. How to stop them is a daunting challenge, but one that must be embraced. Mr. Perez said he is going after state and federal funds for a new public safety headquarters, more police officers, and more scrutiny and programs for prisoners re-entering the community.
That's fine as far as it goes, but is not comprehensive enough. Many of the young men in trouble are the offspring of single teenage mothers who lacked maturity and parenting skills. The city should redouble its efforts to discourage teen pregnancy and encourage responsible fatherhood. Many of the lost boys didn't learn and have dropped out of school. Many have difficulty finding jobs.
The police need to be part of broader effort to help families stay together and prosper. There are some promising programs in place, such as Chief Roberts' anti-truancy program, co-sponsored by The Travelers Cos. A school for high-risk truant 16- to 18-year-olds, scheduled to begin later this year, also shows promise.
It's important for Mr. Perez to tie these efforts together and make them part of the same plan. When 18-year-olds are running around with guns, all systems have failed and no one is going to feel safe, regardless of what the statistics say.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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