Worcester’s Most Dangerous Neighborhoods
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
And in the Great Brook Valley neighborhood, those odds rise to one in 31. That part of the city with the greatest rate of crime is followed by Chandler Hill (one in 36), Belmont Hill/Shrewsbury Street (one in 49), and Chandler Street/Park Avenue (one in 66).
Going hand in hand with violent crime, rates of property crime in Great Brook Valley affect one in 14 residents.
With above average crime rates, public perception in Worcester ranks the issue as a large, looming concern — but it is one that's being addressed through prevention and revitalization efforts and community policing.
“In general, there's been an uptick in car break-ins,” said long-time city councilor Kathleen Toomey. “And there's been an uptick in certain areas of the city of thefts. But I wouldn't say it's extraordinary.”
“But is it more than we'd want? Yes,” she added.
Statistics and comparison
In a ranking of cities using violent and property crimes data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Worcester has the ignoble distinction of being ranked one of the “100 most dangerous cities in the U.S.” by the real-estate neighborhood search website Neighborhood Scout.
The online resource is created by Location, Inc., a Worcester company that bills itself as a leader of location-based data and risk analysis information.
Using 2011 figures, the most recent year available, Worcester made the list at 91. Per capita, the city's crime index came in at 13, making Worcester safer than 13 percent of cities nationwide.
Last year's rankings didn't include Worcester among the top 100.
Violent crimes for the year analyzed included 11 murders, 38 rapes, 412 robberies, and 1,353 assaults. Those numbers put Worcester's per capita rate of violent crime at 2.33 times the statewide average by comparison.
That rate was 30 percent and 64 percent higher than the county's next two largest cities, Fitchburg and Leominster, respectively. Both of which have populations four-times smaller than Worcester.
The property crime rate in Worcester was 34.05 crimes per 1,000 residents, putting that metric above the national (29.1) and state (22.59) median.
In Great Brook Valley, the neighborhood with the greatest amount of reported crime, the property crime rate was 71.07 per 1,000 residents.
Burglaries, thefts, and motor vehicle thefts are included in that tally.
In terms of crime density, the Chandler Street/Park Avenue area of Worcester tops the list with a reported 1,348 crimes per square mile.
Toomey said the reality was that Worcester was an urban city. But, “the police department is doing an excellent job with the resources that we have,” she said. “The chief allocates resources well,” putting “feet on the ground” in neighborhoods that need it most.
The number of officers are down, according to a 2012 Worcester Regional Research Bureau report that tallied 64 fewer uniformed staff between 1998 and 2012.
“The chief has really been creative in being able to stretch his budget,” Toomey continued.
The result? “We have had a tighter handle on what we do have.”
Policing and prevention
The Worcester Police Department's organizational structure has revolved around a community policing approach that partners with community groups.
The department's “split force model” uses geographically assigned patrols and liaison officers that work with neighborhood watch groups and schools.
Some 50-plus watch groups organized by neighborhood act to communicate concerns to police, Police Chief Gary Gemme has said in describing the approach.
Lorraine Laurie, a volunteer with the Green Island neighborhood watch, said the effort hearkened back to days when you knew the officer on your street.
“I can't see policing without the community policing,” she said. A volunteer crime watch coordinator for 14 years, Laurie said crime was cyclical and there was no economic boundaries to its victims. “Crime is all over.”
The police department also organizes a “goods for guns” buy-back program and works with Worcester public schools on a youth leadership and empowerment campaign called Affected.
The efforts “have made a significance difference,” Toomey said, recognizable by residents and business people.
The research bureau's public safety report found property crime in the city had gradually declined over the previous 15 years, while violent crime had remained flat.
Calls to the department for more information were not returned in time for this story.
Across the county, crime prevention is a top priority for Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr., who said his office invested over $100,000 annually in drug forfeiture money to community and nonprofit groups.
The funds go toward summer camps, community projects, and revitalization efforts. “We put a big, big focus on intervention and prevention,” Early said. “We can't arrest our way out.”
Intervention and revitalization
Community outreach presentations by the district attorney's office to youth, elderly, and community groups have reached over 43,000 people this year.
Intervention efforts include youth and adult diversion programs that have minor offenders participate in court-ordered community service. The district attorney's office said 1,489 youth have entered court diversion since that program's start in 2008 — and in that time only 22 reoffended afterwards as youth.
In the greater Piedmont area of Worcester, a community development corporation, Worcester Common Ground, Inc., works to rebuild housing and address the concerns of residents there.
Common Ground Executive Director Yvette Lavigne said residents faced challenges around non-owner-occupied properties and dilapidated and abandoned buildings. Her organization purchases properties to rehab for safe, affordable housing.
But the closure of the People in Peril Shelter has had the effect of shifting the population that homeless shelter once served, observed Lavigne.
“A lot of folks without shelter creates an unsettling feeling with neighbors, and they're scared,” she said, although not directly contributing to crime.
Related Slideshow: Worcester’s Most Dangerous Neighborhoods
Neighborhood search website Neighborhood Scout indexed violent and property crimes data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations to determine the crime rates on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis in Worcester. The slides below show the overall crime index (a score of 100 is best) as well as the per capita crime rates broken down by violent and property crime. The data is sourced from 2011 figures, the most recent year available from the FBI. The online resource is created by Location, Inc., a Worcester-area company that bills itself as a leader of location-based data and risk analysis information.
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