Snowstorms credited with drop in major crimes

By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / March 22, 2011

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The brutal winter snowstorms did more than frustrate commuters and destroy roofs. They also played a large role in keeping Boston crime down, according to police and specialists.

The total number of major crimes, such as murder, rape, and assault, fell 22 percent in the city this year through March 13, compared with the same period last year.

There have been five homicides, compared with 11 at the same time the year before. Nonfatal shootings are down slightly, but there have been big drops in the categories police refer to as “Part 1 crimes,’’ which include burglaries, robberies, larcenies, and vehicle thefts.

“I think these statistics have something to do with the bad weather,’’ said Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University. “To commit a stranger rape, or robbery or even burglary or vehicle theft, all are going to require, for the most part, going outside. Even criminals get cold.’’

Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis agreed.

“Certainly the winter has been pretty rough, and the weather has been helpful,’’ he said in an interview.

But Davis also said that the city is seeing the benefits of strategies police put into effect last year, after a spate of killings that officials believe was largely connected to drug deals gone wrong.

There were 72 homicides in 2010, nearly a 50 percent increase over the year before. Davis, a former narcotics investigator in Lowell, has attributed much of that increase to the result of more recently released felons engaging in drug activity.

Last year, Davis said the narcotics unit was instructed to focus on bringing down drug offenders engaging in gun violence. The drug unit has confiscated about a half-dozen firearms on raids it has conducted since January.

Davis attributed some of the drop in crime to that strategy as well as the department’s 13 Safe Street teams, groups of seven officers who patrol parts of the city that have experienced upticks in violence.

Levin said the public should remember that crime can be cyclical, and the current trend may not continue as the weather warms, and people, including criminals, start spending more time outdoors.

“We have to be careful because we’re only talking about one quarter, and things can change quickly,’’ he said. “Crime does not distribute itself even over a 12-month period.’’

Davis said police are prepared for a possible increase. But some crimes continue to frustrate officials.

Burglaries and attempted burglaries, which rose 20 percent from 2009 to 2010 — reaching 3,508 — are down.

But in some districts, like East Boston and Brighton, the number of incidents remains stubbornly high.

Davis said the problem is that courts do not impose jail sentences on burglars until they have been arrested several times.

“They’re continually put back on the street. The arrest just becomes a nuisance,’’ he said. “We’ve increased the uniform and non-uniform presence in those neighborhoods. We’re staying on top of it. We’re making a significant number of arrests. Unfortunately, someone has to be arrested many times before they receive real prison time.’’

Maria Cramer can be reached at