New Castle Police Chief

New Castle Police Chief Bobby Salem

An annual fireworks festival in downtown New Castle typically attracts several thousand people.

Hundreds attend a summer concert series downtown and the annual Christmas Light-Up Night parade draws thousands of adults and children to New Castle’s streets to await Santa’s arrival. Martin Luther King Day also is observed on the square in the downtown.

New Castle Police Chief Bobby Salem is hard-pressed to remember violent crimes occurring during any of those events.

On a usual day or night, he said, violence in the city is low, outside of the typical bar fights or clandestine drug transactions gone awry.

Salem admitted New Castle is not without crime and said police are working hard to keep the streets safe.

A bank robbery, jewelry store break-in and South Side homicide this year were solved because police were able to access security cameras from local businesses as a tool in their investigations.

Yet a mass emailing sent out by a security systems company ranks New Castle as the third most dangerous city in Pennsylvania. The email was presented as someone commenting on the report, but it provided a link to the company’s website.

The report, sent out Friday, uses statistics from the 2012 FBI Uniform Crime Report, ranking the cities by their violent crime rates.

The compilers used cities with populations of more than 5,000, and included only 31 communities.

For those who took the report to heart, Salem offered some reassurances.

“The figures they used were from 2012,” he said. “Compared to 2013, we’ve had a large drop in violent crimes and we believe 2014 will have another drop, even though we don’t believe in how their study was done.”

He pointed out that in 2012, New Castle had four homicides, and in 2013, none. There have been two this year, he continued, both of which were solved and were not random killings.

There were 120 aggravated assaults reported in 2012, and 74 in 2013, he said.

“When they only did 31 communities in Pennsylvania, it’s not hard to make the top 10 list,” Salem pointed out.

Overall, New Castle’s more serious crimes dropped by 11.92 percent from 2012 to 2013, he added.

New Castle put its street crime unit into action in 2012, “which we think had a significant impact,” Salem said, and it has instituted more aggressive patrols on city streets.

“We think we’re headed in the right direction, and obviously we want to keep going that way.

“The study, circulated through social media, has been spread pretty rapidly but it doesn’t give an accurate reflection of what’s going on with our policing and our community,” Salem explained.

“Statistics like this can put fear in people’s minds and stop them from moving into a community.”

He noted the volume of emergency calls to police from last year to this is down by nearly 400.

Some statistics on the report, such as drug arrests and prostitution show increases because the police are out there making those arrests and doing their job to deter more violent crimes, he suggested.

For example, there were two prostitution arrests in 2012, and 16 in 2013, but that doesn’t mean prostitution is worse. It means the police are being more aggressive in making arrests, he said.

Also on the security company’s top 10 list, in order, are Chester, Ambridge, McKees Rocks, Harrisburg, York, Selinsgrove, Philadelphia, Duquesne and Reading.

The company’s website contains similar reports for other states and countries.

The FBI has warned in an online report that the rankings are “merely a quick choice made by the data user” but provide no insight into the variables that mold crime in a particular town.

Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions that can adversely affect cities and counties and their residents, the FBI report said.

“Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the various unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction.”

Attempts to contact the security company Tuesday through the 800 number on its website were unsuccessful, as calls repeatedly were transferred to a mailbox that was full.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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