NEWS

Mayor, chief tout city’s ‘proactive’ approach on crime

Top officials discuss relationships with Providence counterparts as high-profile incidents of violence, ongoing illegal vehicle activity shake state’s capital city

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 8/11/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE A series of shootings and other violent incidents - including a situation last week in which a woman was dragged from her car and beaten as her 8-year-old child looked on - have raised new questions and concerns over the safety of

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NEWS

Mayor, chief tout city’s ‘proactive’ approach on crime

Top officials discuss relationships with Providence counterparts as high-profile incidents of violence, ongoing illegal vehicle activity shake state’s capital city

Posted

A series of shootings and other violent incidents – including a situation last week in which a woman was dragged from her car and beaten as her 8-year-old child looked on – have raised new questions and concerns over the safety of Rhode Island’s capital city.

Top officials in Cranston, meanwhile, say that while they continue to monitor developments in Providence, the issues that have most captured the public spotlight of late – violent crime and illegal street vehicles – are not spilling over into their community at this point.

“We have done a good job being proactive as a police department, and we have been able to reduce crime drastically in Cranston over the last several years,” Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael Winquist said Monday. “I think we’re in a good position to continue that, but we are monitoring the situation in Providence.”

In a statement last week, Mayor Ken Hopkins vowed to “fight to keep crime from creeping across Cranston borders.”

“In light of the disturbing increase in violent crime in the neighboring City of Providence, we must increase our vigilance and police resources,” Hopkins said in the statement. “We are grateful to our police officers for their dedication, watchfulness, and outreach work in our Cranston community. Unfortunately, in the neighboring Capital City, many brave men and women in blue are limited in resources and remain without executive support from their elected officials. This lack of leadership produces a sense of lawlessness, leading to heinous acts of violence on neighborhood streets. I will not allow this unlawful behavior to cross over Cranston’s borders.”

Recent violence

Providence has seen 15 homicides to date this year, the two most recently being a pair of Massachusetts men who were shot outside a nightclub in the area of Broad and West Friendship streets over the weekend.

Overnight from July 31 to Aug. 1, Providence Police responded to multiple violent incidents in what a top-ranking officer called a “bad night” for the city. Those incidents included the killing of 24-year-old Miya Brophy-Baermann of Warwick, who was shot near Roger Williams Green in the early morning hours, and the shooting of five people off Reservoir Avenue.

Then, early last week, a 35-year-old woman was pulled from her vehicle and beaten by ATV and dirt bike riders near the intersection of Orms and Smith streets. Police have since charged 24-year-old Shyanne Boisvert of North Providence in the incident. Boisvert was one of the illegal street vehicle riders charged in connection with a New Year’s Day incident on Atwood Avenue in Cranston.

In terms of the illegal street vehicles, a Tuesday report in the Boston Globe found Providence Police have received more than 2,600 complaints regarding ATVs and other illegal vehicles on the capital city’s roadways in the last 18 months.

“A review of data from the Providence Police Department going back to January 2020 shows every neighborhood is plagued by illegal riders, at all hours, any day of the week, with an average of seven calls to police per day,” the Globe’s story, titled “With thousands of complaints, every neighborhood in Providence has an ATV problem,” reads. “So far this year, there have been more calls to police about illegal ATVs than in all of 2020.”

The Providence City Council was due to convene for an emergency meeting Tuesday night to discuss illegal street vehicles and the recent violent crime incidents.

Cranston response

Earlier this year, Hopkins issued an executive order seeking to strengthen enforcement of the city’s ordinances regarding illegal vehicles on roadways. That order also asked fueling stations to deny service to illegal vehicles.

Hopkins, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and the police chiefs of both communities also announced the creation of a new task force to address the ATV and dirt bike issue.

The Cranston City Council has since approved, and Hopkins has signed, a new ordinance amendment based on legislation adopted in Providence in 2015. The new rules create a mechanism through which illegal vehicles can become subject to forfeiture after being seized by police. Additionally, a new $500 fine has been established for violators.

On Monday, Winquist said while Providence continues to see a high volume of incidents involving illegal vehicles, the activity has been “almost nonexistent in our city” since the actions by the mayor and council.

The chief also credited joint actions on the part of Cranston and Providence police for the decline in ATV and dirt bike activity in Cranston, although he did not elaborate.

Winquist said a handful of illegal vehicles – two or three, perhaps, but he did not immediately have a specific figure – have been seized and forfeited under the new ordinance.

The chief said plans remain in place for the seized vehicles to be shipped to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, for use by police in that city. Hopkins announced that initiative during the joint appearance with Providence officials earlier this year.

In terms of the response to recent events, Winquist said: “I wouldn’t say we’re doing anything different.” He said the Cranston and Providence departments “continue to communicate on all levels, including myself with [Providence] Col. [Hugh] Clements.”

“He knows that all the resources at our disposal are his if needed,” Winquist said.

There has been recent violence in Cranston, albeit not on the scale of what has happened in Providence. Police continue to investigate a July shooting on Harris Avenue that wounded two people. In September 2020, the city’s sole murder of 2020 took place on the same street, although police have said the incidents were not connected.

“We do believe there are some ties to the city of Providence” in those incidents, Winquist said. He added that “major crimes” in Cranston “often have a correlation to the city of Providence,” and as a result, the close cooperation between the two departments has “paid dividends.” '

Crime trends in Cranston

Winquist on Monday said Cranston has seen a continual decline in crime, both violent and nonviolent, over the last several years.

“I attribute that to the hard work of the men and women of the Cranston Police Department,” he said. “They go out everyday, do their jobs, and do them very well.”

He pointed to the department’s monthly crime statistics report for June, which provides 2021 year-to-date figures and comparisons going back to 2017.

According to that document, the incidence of violent crime, property crime and other crimes – a category that includes a host of different charges, from kidnapping to bribery – have almost all decreased on a year-to-date basis since 2017.

Thus far in 2021, the report indicates, there have been 58 incidents of violent crime – a category that includes murder, a number of sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault – thus far in 2021. For the January to June timeframe in 2020, the department reported 39 incidents of violent crime. In contrast, between 2017 and 2019, the department reported an average of nearly 80 violent crime incidents for the same six-month period.

In terms of property crime – which encompasses arson, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle thefts – the city has seen a significant uptick in 2021. To date, 449 property crime incidents have been reported, up 17 percent from the 383 reported for the January to June period in 2020. But previously, the number of reported property crimes in the first half of the year had decreased steadily, from 589 in 2017 to 498 in 2019.

In terms of other crimes, the department reports 521 incidents to date in 2021, compared with 586 for the first six months of 2020. Those figures both represent a significant decrease from earlier years, including a peak of 694 reported crimes in the first half of 2017.

The June report offers insight into what activity is driving the property crime increase.

Thefts of motor vehicle parts, for example, are up 87 percent in 2021 on a year-to-date basis, from 38 to 71. In June alone, there were 22 reported cases of this crime, up from seven in the same month last year. The increase appears to be part of a longer-term trend – the 2021 year-to-date numbers, for example, are a 223 percent increase over the January to June numbers from 2017, when only 22 cases were reported.

Thefts from motor vehicles have also nearly doubled in the first six months of 2021 as compared to the same timeframe last year. There have been 89 cases reported for the year to date, up 89 percent from the 47 that had been reported through June 2020.

Motor vehicle thefts have also jumped 31 percent, driven largely by a significant increase for January (from nine in 2020 to 20 in 2021). In total, there have been 51 reported cases of motor vehicle theft in 2021 thus far, up from 39 for the same period in 2020.

Other property crimes have dropped sharply from earlier years and remained steady in comparison with the first half of 2020. The 78 reported shoplifting incidents for the year to date, for example, is down 48 percent from the 149 for the first half of 2017 and 9 percent from the 86 for the January to June timeframe for 2020.

A similar trend is seen in the reported thefts from buildings, which were down 47 percent (87 to 46) from the first half of 2017 to the first half of 2021. Compared with 2020 (45 cases), the figure was essentially unchanged, up just 2 percent.

Burglaries, too, are down sharply from 2017, decreasing by 51 percent (81 cases to 40) on a year-to-date basis from 2017 to 2021. Cases are up slightly from the first half of 2020 (37 to 40, or 8 percent).

In terms of crimes against persons – which includes portions of both the violent and other crime categories listed above – the vast majority of incidents involve charges of simple assault.

Those incidents are essentially level on a year-to-year basis, according to the June report – 150 for 2021, compared with 148 for 2020, a 1 percent increase. Aggravated assaults have declined year-to-year, from 39 in the first half of 2020 to 34 for the January to June timeframe in 2021.

Meanwhile, there have been eight robberies to date in 2021 as of the June report, up from seven in 2020. That was down significantly, however, from 2019 and 2018, for which police reported 15 and 14 robberies, respectively, for the first half of the year.

Winquist’s message in the Cranston department’s year-end 2020 report also speaks to the declining crime figures seen in recent years.

“While this year was somewhat an anomaly due to the pandemic, we again saw substantial reductions in virtually every crime statistical category. The efforts of all Cranston Police Department members and partnerships with our community partners have led to a significant decrease in crime,” it reads. “Most notably, Burglary/Breaking and Entering offenses for the calendar year 2020 were reduced by 26% from the previous year, which contributed to a cumulative reduction of 63% over the past four years. The downward trend of criminal activity is continuing with historical [lows] in violent crime (-20% since 2016) and property crime (-43% since 2016). We will explore new technology and crime-fighting techniques while relying on current and new community partnerships to continue the downward trend in 2021.”

Mayor criticizes counterpart

In his response to the recent events in Providence, Hopkins has publicly placed much of the blame on Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Speaking last week on Tara Granahan’s WPRO radio show, Hopkins said: “I think [Providence Police’s] hands are being tied by the mayor and his administration … I don’t want that to spill over into Cranston. I’m going to give my department, my police, every resource they need to make sure that Cranston is the safest and most secure city in the state of Rhode Island.”

During the same interview, Hopkins acknowledged there being “bad blood” between himself and Elorza. He attributed the tensions – which he said have reached a “boiling point” – to a dispute over a Cranston appointment to a joint workforce development consortium formed by the two communities a number of years ago.

In his statement regarding the recent violence, Hopkins pointed to the declining violent crime figures in Cranston and said he “regularly meets” with Winquist. He also said the department has “recently invested in new technologies and equipment to prevent and investigate potential crimes.”

“I believe that the greatest responsibility of a municipal chief executive is to keep its citizens safe, which is why I included funding for four new officers in my recent budget,” Hopkins said. “I will never tie the hands of our public safety officials and I will continue to fully fund and support the police in their important work. Cranston neighborhoods, homes, and businesses will continue to be protected by a department that balances difficult challenges with bravery and compassion. While some in public office wish to slash funding from their local police departments, I will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Cranston’s finest.”

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