December 21, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Keeping an eye on crime
By Jody Reese

Earlier this week Laura Briggs sent out a press release thanking all the people who have given her support since her husband, Manchester Police officer Michael Briggs, was killed. She said the outpouring of help has been overwhelming, from fellow officers and from strangers in the community.

After the death of Briggs, politicians from both sides of the aisle said that more needed to be done to deal with crime in the Queen City. Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta proposed a six-part plan to battle crime and Governor John Lynch sent in state agents and troopers to bolster the Manchester Police Department. The public responded by organizing into community crime prevention groups and the school department lent a hand by letting those groups use the schools to meet for free.

Now that we’re getting ready to enter a new year, we should be evaluating how we’re doing in the short-term fight against crime and on the longer-term projects, like poverty reduction and bettering the schools.

Recently Ward 7 Alderman Bob Shea asked the Manchester Police Department to better supply the aldermen with crime statistics and information, so the board could better make funding and personnel decisions. As it stands that information either isn’t provided or is hard to come by. Shea had wanted a committee formed with various departments and agencies to help government and agencies communicate better with the Manchester Police Department. The department felt that this additional committee would be unnecessary given that the department already speaks with those groups.

While that may be true, and more meetings are surely not the best use of police resources, Shea is correct in his request for more information on crime in Manchester and surround towns. Many times, the aldermen have to make big decisions on city government crime-fighting policy without the benefit of detailed crime data.

Let’s say that in fact crime is down across the city, but a few violent crimes grab the attention of local newspapers and television stations. What’s the story our city leaders are going to tell the public? If they had hard data supporting the story of low crime (and in fact Manchester and Nashua together are some of the safest places to live in the country), they could honestly reassure the public. Comparing this situation to the business world, it would be like Nike not know how many shoes they sold and how much money they made or lost. Detailed crime data is just a basic thing all aldermen should have constant access to.

Perhaps that ought to be the next big step. The aldermen could turn the committee on public safety into an information-gathering organization whose main job is to make sure the entire board has complete and detailed crime data as close to real time as possible.

Basic to solving a problem is knowing what it is and where you stand. We should expect nothing less from our city government.