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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

City police officials don’t see strong link between recession, crime rate

Although a poor economy is one factor in a city’s crime rate, Nashua Police Chief Donald Conley and his deputies say they didn’t see a corresponding jump in the crime rate during the most recent recession.

“There are so many factors that go into your crime rate, to make that connection is impossible, I think,” Deputy Police Chief Peter Theriault said.

Although calls to Nashua police have reached nearly 100,000 annually, an increase of more than 10,000 over the past five years, arrests have been relatively stable since before the recession began. Police made 4,157 arrests last year, only 40 more than in 2005 and less than in 2006 and 2008, according to the department’s annual crime report.

Technically, the recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.

Nashua police don’t keep crime data dating back as far as the recession of the early 1990s, but national numbers paint an equally vague picture, neither proving or disproving the theoretical link between poor economic conditions and an increase in crime.

Total violent crime was slightly lower during the recession than it was a couple of years after. There were 1.8 million murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults in 1990, compared to 1.85 million such incidents four years later, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

There were 12.6 million total property crimes in 1990, including burglary, theft and motor vehicle thefts, compared to 12.1 million reported in 1994, according to census statistics.

Conley maintains that no matter the country and state’s economic situation, the real driver behind crime is drug addiction and alcohol abuse. It’s a rare criminal who only recently turned to crime because he or she was laid off, he said.

Deputy Police Chief John Seusing agreed.

“We just don’t see that,” he said. “A lot of people who we bring in for stealing don’t want to work. They prefer to steal. Some people are predisposed to be a thief.”

He pointed to a burglary ring police busted in September.

Police said two Nashua teenagers and a Massachusetts resident scoured social networking websites to find people who wrote about going on vacation to find their victims. They were arrested in September and charged in connection to dozens of burglaries and in possession of more than $100,000 in allegedly stolen property, police said.

But they hadn’t recently fallen on bad times. It was their chosen profession, Seusing said.

The men were initially charged in connection to 18 burglaries.

“It’d be nice to blame it on the economy,” Seusing said, but “we’re steady in good times and bad times.”

Conley said the more common reason people turn to crime out of financial necessity is because they lack skills to find well-paying jobs, even in a good economy.

Conley said he suspects that where a poor economy most impacts Nashua’s crime rate is in the area of domestic disputes and domestic violence. That’s mostly a hunch, though, because so many of those disputes are never relayed to police, he said.

“The stress within a family is very difficult,” Conley said.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or