WESTERLY — A reduction in the number of summons issued for consumption of alcohol in public, paired with fewer arrests for trespassing at quarries in the community, led to a reduction in overall arrests reported by police in 2017. Officials warn, however, that such reductions do not necessarily mean crime is down.
According to data available through police records, Westerly officers initiated a total of approximately 1,370 arrest reports in both 2015 and 2016, but just 1,270 in 2017. The reduction marks about a 9 percent decrease in the total number of reported arrests last year, but Police Chief Richard Silva said those figures may be deceiving.
“When you look at the preliminary crime data for 2017, we are relatively close in terms of the same number of reported crimes and arrests across most categories,” Silva said. “I’d like to say arrests are down, but the total number of arrest reports is not always a direct indicator of crime in the community.”
In phone conversations this week, Silva said the department has seen “pretty steady activity” across the board, with most categories seeing little to no change. In fact, categories including burglaries, assault, disorderly conduct and domestics have all showed little to no change year-over-year.
Some other categories including DUI arrests — Westerly reported 115 in 2017, up from 104 in 2016 — were actually up slightly when compared to previous years.
Instead, the vast majority of that reduction came from the classification of “all other offenses” and would include a wide variety of town ordinances including beach-related drinking enforcement and trespassing. Neither is considered a crime with victims, he said, and would not be part of a typical uniform crime report, but both directly impact the number of arrests in town.
Police conducted a thorough beach enforcement again during the summer, but the efforts led to 44 fewer tickets for consumption of alcohol in public than over the same period in 2015 and 2016. Silva said the department also saw an additional 50 or so trespassing cases specific to town quarries in 2016, part of an enhanced enforcement after a Westerly man fell to his death at the Copar Quarries of Westerly facility in Bradford in 2015.
The two categories alone account for more than 90 percent of the change, he noted, and had virtually no impact on the uniform crime statistics in the community.
Silva said when analyzing total arrests, those conducting research must be careful as some arrests may not be directly related to local crime. He said under the state’s reporting procedures, a crime such as larceny could be committed and reported in Warwick, for example, but a warrant could be obtained and the formal arrest made by Westerly police.
In the same sense, he said crimes committed in Westerly may lead to similar arrests in other towns or could go unsolved and therefore would not be reflected in the overall number of arrests made.
Rhode Island State Police compile local and state crime data as part of a statewide Uniform Crime Report, but data for 2017 is not considered complete. State police typically release the annual report in May each year.
A copy of the 2016 Uniform Crime Report can be found at http://risp.ri.gov/documents/UCR/2016.pdf.