Boston Crime Rates on the Rise

Crime rates in Cambridge have remained flat in recent years, while violent crime in Boston is skyrocketing, part of a nationwide trend of heightened violence.

The number of Beantown shootings increased by 34 percent in 2005, according to Boston Police Department (BPD), while the violent crime rate in Cambridge dropped less than 1 percent.

According to BPD Sergeant Thomas Sexton, there were 75 homicides in Boston in the last year, “the highest in ten years.”

Sexton attributed the majority of violent crimes in Boston to the city’s juvenile population.

“It’s groups of young, youthful people with firearms at hand,” Sexton said. “It starts with a single bump in the [school] hallway. It’s simple things like that which have triggered violence.”

But Anthony A. Braga, a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government who is teaching Sociology 179, “Crime, Justice, and the American Legal System” this spring, specifically attributed the spike in violent crime to the “reawakening of the ongoing violence among a small number of gang-involved offenders.”

Conflicts between Boston gangs are not being settled quickly and effectively enough, Braga said, due to what he called a lack of support from law enforcement officers, criminal justice agencies, and community-based groups.

Christopher Winship, the Diker-Tishman Professor of Sociology and author of a published paper on Boston’s success at curbing crime in the 1990s, also cited problems with law enforcement officers and community support groups as contributing to increasing violent crime.

He said the sudden increase in Boston’s crime is a result of a broken partnership between BPD and black inner-city ministers, a partnership forged in the 1990s to deal with youth violence.

According to Winship’s 2002 publication entitled “The End of a Miracle? Crime, Faith, and Partnership in Boston in the 1990’s,” there were only 31 homicides in Boston in 1999, a statistic Winship attibuted to cooperation between the ministers and BPD.

Now, however, “the relationships between Boston Police Department and Boston communities would best be described as horrendous,” Winship said.

Although Sexton insisted that BPD still has “a working relationship with community leaders and faith-based leaders,” he acknowledged that the BPD is employing fewer officers this year—about 2,000 in comparison to 2,300 in earlier years.

THE SAFER, SMALLER NEIGHBOR

Frank T. Pasquarello, Cambridge Police Department (CPD) spokesman, said that Cambridge crime rates have decreased overall over the past several years, with only three domestic violence deaths in a 10-year period.

He attributed the decrease to CPD’s strict control over “quality of life issues,” including keeping down noise in playground areas at night and strengthening restrictions on public drinking, red light violations, and littering.

“We take it very seriously on some of the smaller crimes, because those crimes themselves lead to a lot of [larger] problems,” Pasquarello said.

“There are certain things in society that people demand...walking down the street [without] having a drunk or a homeless person yelling at you.”

Pasquarello added that the constant flow of “new blood” into the CPD—12 new officers will be added to the force in June—also helps to keep crime rates low.

Braga added that violent crimes in Cambridge have largely remained flat due to the city’s affluence and lack of “high-risk” neigborhoods and gangs.

He said, however, that “it’s hard to compare Cambridge to Boston...it’s like apples and oranges.”

Harvard University Police Department spokesman Steven G. Catalano declined to comment on violent crime rates on Harvard’s campus until the department’s annual report is published. Last year’s report was released in August.

—Staff writer Emily J. Nelson can be reached at ejnelson@fas.harvard.edu.