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City's Crime Falls to Record Low

Police Attribute Decrease to Education, Citizen Activism

By Elissa R. Hart

The Cambridge Police Department's annual crime report for 1996, released last week, revealed that crime rates are at the lowest they have been since the department began keeping track of these statistics in the 1960s.

The total number of crimes committed in Cambridge fell to 4,951, down 11.9 percent from 5,620 in 1995.

"Every day, in every way, Cambridge is a safer city," reads the introduction to the report, which was compiled to dispel fear and lead to "intelligent problem solving approaches."

The report's most striking claim was that violent crime--which has held relatively constant in recent years--dropped 19.2 percent.

The decline was spearheaded by a 23.1 percent decrease in robberies, bringing them to the lowest level since the department started tracking crime statistics.

Cambridge saw only one murder last year--down two from the previous year--when a homeless man was stabbed in the chest during a Nov. 22 street argument on Mass. Ave.

Crimes in the city are divided into seven categories: murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft.

There was an overall decrease in all seven areas, although several neighborhoods encompassing the University saw increases, lending an ominous tinge to the generally optimistic report.

For instance, the neighborhood surrounding the Quad saw a 126 percent increase in auto theft. And the area encompassing the Kennedy School of Government saw theft from motor vehicles double.

In addition, rape numbers remained virtually unchanged.

The most common crime in the Square is still theft, despite a 10 percent decline in personal theft that comes on the heels of a 32 percent increase in 1995.

According to the report, professional pickpockets continue to be a source of concern.

Commercial crime in Harvard Square fell significantly in 1996, which the report attributes to increased internal security in office buildings.

The factors that contributed to the overall decline in crime include the efforts of police officers on the street, crime prevention education and increased community activism, according to a preliminary report released earlier in the year.

In the letter that introduced the report, Police Commissioner Ronnie Watson issued a call for continued community involvement in efforts to fight crime. Watson also encouraged initiatives to build a partnership between the police department and the community.

"Long-term solutions to crime, disorder and quality of life issues must be forged jointly by the community and the police if they are to succeed," he wrote.

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