Willard: Predictive policing helped take a bite out of 2017 crimes

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Police Chief Nick Willard reviews 2017 crime statistics during Wednesday’s Police Commissioner’s meeting. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – In three words, crime is down.

But to get a full picture of the city police department’s efforts to reduce targeted part-one crimes – including violent crimes and property crimes – you’d have to crunch the numbers.

On Wednesday, Police Chief Nick Willard presented an overview of Manchester’s 2017 preliminary crime stats based on numbers crunched by the department’s crime analyst Krista Comrie, and the overall good news is that crime is down.

But there are areas of concern, says Willard, among the top two: domestic violence and crimes against children.

“Forcible rape, that’s really the only (increase) in our violent crime statistics and we (will) break that out later on in terms of the victimization. And you’ll see that we have some child issues in this city – the number of child victims in this city will astound you, and it certainly is something that concerns us,” Willard said. “We do a lot of child advocacy, we have our ACERT team and yet, when we look at these statistics, a lot of those forcible rapes are on children.”

According to the breakout (see page 9 below) 35 percent of the 99 forcible rapes investigated in 2017 involved child victims; 18 percent involved acquaintances; 18 percent involved strangers; 16 percent were domestic-related crimes; 7 percent involved juveniles; 2 percent involved roommates and 1 percent involved neighbors, with 2 percent among victims who wished to remain anonymous.

Later in the presentation, Lt. Nicole Ledoux, a detective in the domestic violence unit, further explained that rape involving children is a “closed-door crime,” and unless someone comes forward, it’s invisible.

“There’s no way to do predictive analytics on family violence,” Ledoux said, citing national statistics that show 1-in-5 boys and 1-in-6 girls are sexually abused in their lifetime, and only 1-in-10 of those crimes are reported.

“Unless someone comes forward, there’s no way to do predictive analytics for hot spots on family violence or child sexual abuse. The best thing we can do is we partner with CAC (Child Advocacy Center), we partner with YWCA, and we partner with Manchester Community Health to educate people on the signs of child sexual abuse and physical abuse and on mandated reporting, on whose required to report, and when and what they’re required to report, and we do that extensively,” Ledoux says. 

“That’s really the best we can do, is to educate people. The more reports we get the more investigations we are going to initiate, and the more we’re going to uncover,” Ledoux says.

When asked why the spike in vulnerable children, Ledoux said that is not how she interprets the statistic. Rather, increased reporting is bringing more closed door crimes into the light.

“I don’t think we’re seeing more vulnerable children; I think we’re seeing more crime because more is being reported because of the educational initiatives,” Ledoux said.

Willard said as “horrendous” as that statistic is, it’s not news to MPD.

“We’ve never extrapolated the numbers before. But we decided we need to know what’s driving those numbers. Rather than giving you that one statistic, this is about figuring out where can we focus. If you have aggravated assault and 35 percent of them are stranger-on-stranger, then it’d be concerning to walk down the street in your community. So, we’ve illuminated that one segment that maybe we weren’t identifying publicly. We’ve always known, which is why we have a unit dedicated just for children.”

Scroll through the preliminary crime state presentation below.

Total violent crime is down 4 percent, and property crimes are down by 3 percent. In 2016 violent crime was up by 2 percent, so the 2017 outcome is important, says Willard, because it shows police have made strides in one of their primary goals.

Willard said he was disappointed in burglary numbers (up 8 percent) compared to improvements in 2016 (down 25 percent from 2015), which he called “extraordinary.” The 8 percent increase relates directly to October of 2017, when burglaries were down 9 percent, Willard says.

“Then we got hit with a spate of North End burglaries. Literally four people can change the crime rate, and that’s what happened with burglary,” Willard says.

Areas of success include a reduction in robberies (-16 percent), which reflects a major focus of police resources in 2017, Willard said, with marked improvement in the area of convenience store robberies.

“We had convenience store owners come in here with Senator D’Allesandro, and they were hot as hornets. They were pretty upset because they were being victimized and robbed. So they came in here we heard what they said and then we retooled what our focus was going to be with predictive analytics, and we had no robberies in September and October. That’s pretty significant to me,” Willard says.

Manchester uses five years-worth of data and algorithms to improve outcomes via predictive analytics – the way it works is not quite like the sci-fi accuracy seen in the 2002 Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, but Willard says his officers are definitely thwarting crime simply by knowing where the hot spots are.

As Willard explained, if a police unit is in a high crime area that’s been predicted for anywhere from 12-16 minutes, crime for the next hour is depleted by 93 percent. Each subsequent hour after that crime stats goes down incrementally, but police presence has proven to have a lasting effect. .

Officers come into work and go to their predictive analytic map and see that crime is most likely to occur in a given area, and their job at that point is to go out on “hot spot patrol,” wherever the map sends them, which can mean just parking in an area, or getting out and walking the beat, depending on the neighborhood.

“The theory behind predictive analytics is pretty basic stuff – if you have an area where people are turning a blind eye to crime and blight, and lack of police presence, you have motivated offenders because they feel emboldened to do what they want to do, and suitable victims – people in an area free of law enforcement and free of people who care. Those areas are ripe for crime and those are the areas we need to have police presence,” says Willard.

Data shows that the risk versus reward model is working, and crime is down in targeted areas including robbery, thefts from motor vehicles, and burglary.

“We’re decreasing the opportunity for crime to happen,” says Willard.


About Carol Robidoux 6104 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!