Tuesday, November 23, 2004

City Ranked Among Most Dangerous


Mayor, Police Chief Dispute Survey, Say Findings Skewed

November 23, 2004 By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer

A survey by a national research firm has ranked Hartford as the seventh most dangerous city in the United States, alongside such traditional crime hotbeds as New Orleans, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Detroit.

But top Hartford officials, including the mayor and the chief of police, disputed the survey's findings Monday, saying the ranking is probably skewed by the inclusion of 16 deaths in a nursing home fire last year in Hartford's homicide total of 39.

The deaths were ruled homicides and the woman accused of starting the fire at the Greenwood Health Center has been charged with arson murder, but officials say it is a one-year aberration.

"We don't believe these numbers accurately reflect the situation in the city," Mayor Eddie A. Perez said Monday during a press conference to refute the survey's findings.

"Hartford is a safe city and continues to be a safe city, but unfortunately surveys like this will only make it harder for us to tell the true story."

But Scott Morgan, the president of the survey firm, Morgan Quitno Press, said eliminating the Greenwood homicides from the city's totals last year would barely have removed Hartford from the top 10. Morgan Quitno, based in Kansas, has released its survey annually since 1996. It examined FBI crime statistics for 2003 for all U.S. cities with populations of more than 75,000, and then used a formula that assesses points for every violent crime recorded.

The last time Hartford cracked the survey's top 25 for most dangerous cities was in 1996, when it finished 14th. This year, it cracked the top 10 as homicides rose from 21 in 2002 to 39 in 2003.

If the homicide totals from the nursing home fire were removed from the city's totals last year, it might have lowered Hartford's ranking, Perez and Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett said.

"The ranking was calculated by taking the population of the city and then weighing various violent crimes such as homicides, but we aren't sure if they gave too much weight to the nursing home fire," Harnett said.

But even without the Greenwood totals, Morgan said, Hartford would have an average of about 20 homicides per 100,000 people, well over the national average of 5.7 per 100,000.

"Whether the numbers are inflated or not, the city still has an unusually high average in terms of violent crime," he said.

In reaction to the survey, Perez and Harnett released up-to-date crime statistics for Hartford that show decreases in all violent crimes, including homicides, rapes and robberies. As of Nov. 13 of this year, there have been 54 rapes, compared with 68 in 2003, a drop of 20.6 percent, Perez said. If the Greenwood cases are not counted, homicides have declined from 23 in 2003 to 17 so far this year.

Likewise, the number of robberies - which Harnett called a "bellwether" category in terms of gauging violent crime - fell from 912 in 2003 to 800 so far in 2004.

Other Connecticut cities fared better than Hartford in the survey, with Danbury finishing 16th on the list of the top 25 safest cities in the country and Stamford finishing 25th on the same list.

Springfield, Mass., finished 18th on the list of the most dangerous.

The six cities that fared worse than Hartford on the list of the 25 most dangerous were, in order, Camden, N.J.; Detroit; Atlanta; St. Louis; Gary, Ind.; and Washington D.C.Perez said the announcement of the survey's findings, disseminated across the country, makes it hard for the city to improve its reputation.

"We just have to work that much harder to get our own message out," he said. "Anyone who takes the time to get to know the city will realize that Hartford sells itself."

Matt Hennessy, the mayor's chief of staff, said the survey's findings amounted to an "annoyance" that would probably not affect a business or family considering a move to Hartford.

Lee C. Erdmann, the city's chief operating officer, agreed, saying he did not expect the survey to become an obstacle in Hartford's efforts to attract new businesses and families to the city.

"Not too many people are looking at these national surveys when they decide to move here," Perez said.

The above was found on the Hartford Courant website

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