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Arlington, Woburn report rise in crime

Lawrence, Lowell show a decrease

Arlington and Woburn saw big jumps in total crime in the first six months of 2007 compared with the same period last year, while Lawrence and Lowell - two of the largest urban centers north of Boston - experienced slight declines, according to a recently released study.

The report, issued by the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs, a group of police chiefs from Bay State municipalities with populations of more than 40,000, said total crime in the five biggest communities in this region saw a 2 percent increase during the first half of this year.

But it noted that Arlington saw a 38 percent jump in total crime during the period - the biggest of any large municipality in the state. During the first six months of 2006, Arlington reported 256 crimes. This year, from January through June, the town reported 354.

The report included felonies, such as murder, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft, as well as some misdemeanors, like larceny under $250.

Overall, total crime in Massachusetts' largest cities, including Boston, dropped 1 percent the first six months of 2007, compared with the same period last year. Brockton and Brookline both saw an 11 percent drop - the largest decline statewide.

The report said those cities that saw a rise in total crime reported increases in both violent and property crimes. It said cities that saw a drop in crime focused on "hot spot enforcement" and community-oriented initiatives.

In Arlington, Police Chief Frederick Ryan said he believes the main reasons his town saw the spike in crime are that nearby communities are doing a better job at curtailing crime and his department is too short-staffed to tackle the new influx of criminal types.

"Most towns in Massachusetts have two [police] officers per 1,000 residents. Our ratio is 1.4 per 1,000 residents," said Ryan. "That's one of the lowest [ratios] in the state."

The result, said Ryan, is that his department is forced to react to crime instead of being proactive in fighting the elements that lead to potential crime. "I hope this is a wakeup call to our policy makers in Arlington," he said. "We need more resources."

But Arlington Selectwoman Annie Lacourt said it's not just about more resources, especially since the department's funding has remained steady from 2006 to 2007. It was in 2003 when Arlington saw a decrease in state funding that resulted in seven lost police positions, she said.

"It's how we have handled the increase [in crime] that matters," she said.

Still, Lacourt and Ryan said they hope the report results in more state aid for the department. "Our officers are pretty worn out," said Lacourt.

The report was presented to Governor Deval L. Patrick by area police chiefs last month in an effort to shore up state aid to police departments.

Woburn and Medford were other cities in this area that saw spikes in overall crime. Woburn's number increased 11 percent and Medford's, 8 percent, according to the report.

Woburn Police Chief Philip L. Mahoney said the increase in his city is due mainly to a 100 percent increase in car break-ins.

"We are located next to two major highways, and it's killing us," he said. "People stop by to go eat or something, and the next thing they know is that someone broke in their car and stole their GPS system."

Mahoney said he has asked residents and area businesses to remind motorists not to leave their GPS, or Global Positioning System, equipment visible, especially during lunchtime and late at night. He agreed that aid from the state has not kept up with the growth in the area to battle crime.

"We could all use some help," he said.

Meanwhile, to the north near Interstate 495, Lawrence and Lowell saw declines in overall crime during the first six months of this year. Continuing its downward trend, Lawrence experienced a 6 percent decrease - to another 30-year low for the city, said Lawrence Police Chief John J. Romero.

The department's specialized units and an increase in community participation are the reasons the city continues to see a drop in overall crime, he said.

"All of this allows us to tackle the elements that lead to crimes," Romero said.

Lowell's overall crime fell 2 percent, from 2,136 in the first half of 2006 to 2,101 in 2007, the report said. Police Superintendent Kenneth E. Lavallee, who took over the department this year, credits better working relationship with the State Police and the Essex County Sheriff's Department to offset the department's declining resources.

Those efforts have allowed police to go after violent crimes, which have seen an 11 percent drop this year from last, Lavallee said.

"This is great news for us. But am I satisfied? No," Lavallee said. "We have more work to do."

Russell Contreras can be reached at rcontreras@globe.com.

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