NEW BEDFORD — Violent crime rates in New Bedford have hit a record low, dropping 5% last year to reach below 600 for the first time in at least 35 years — with property crime falling 21% last year and overall crime down by 39% since 2016.

That's according to finalized 2020 statistics recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, based on data that is voluntarily reported to the agency by the city's police department.

 

The number of violent crimes in the city has dropped to 596 crimes reported to the FBI in 2020.

This represents the lowest number of New Bedford violent crimes reported in FBI data, which goes back to 1985.

Courtesy FBI.gov

The record comes on the heels of a recent marked decline from a high of 1,200 violent crimes in 2014.

New Bedford police said the drop in crime last year is consistent with a recent five-year downward trend in the city, although they also note the mixed effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on crime.

"The pandemic had complex, mixed impacts on crime rates in 2020 both locally and nationally," the department stated in a release, citing FBI data and studies from groups like the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.

"Mobility restrictions had a potentially positive influence, while increased levels of social unrest likely contributed negatively," the statement continued.

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“2020 obviously was an unusual year, but the fact that the 2020 decline is consistent with long-term trends gives us confidence that we’re taking the right approach," commented Police Chief Paul Oliveira, who ultimately credited his officers "on the street every day" for the steady decline in crime.

Some in the city have expressed skepticism of the decreasing number of incidents, including police union president Hank Turgeon, who told WBSM's Barry Richard in February that officials "sugarcoat the statistics" because “they want the tourists to come in.”

The police department submitted preliminary data to the FBI earlier this year, which the agency made official last month.

The 21% drop in property crime represents a decrease from 2,130 reported incidents in 2019 to 1,684 reported incidents in 2020.

Burglaries dropped 39% and larceny dropped 19% last year, according to police.

As for violent crimes, robbery fell by 40% and reported rape dropped 25% last year.

On the other hand, aggravated assault increased by 14% and homicides went up from three reported in 2019 to four in 2020.

Since 2016, violent crime in the city dropped 26%, while property crime decreased by 42%.

Overall, crime in New Bedford has fallen 39% since 2016.

"Crime has been going down sharply in the city for several years now," said Mayor Jon Mitchell this morning to WBSM's Phil Paleologos.

Mitchell credited good police leadership and a "very dedicated" department as well as cooperative efforts with the Neighborhood Task Force.

He also highlighted a shift to a more data-driven approach in policing.

"That may sound a little wonkish, but it's an approach that says look, we're gonna understand where crimes are occurring, and then put police officers in those places," Mitchell explained. "It's called predictive policing."

He noted that other cities in the U.S. have been implementing the approach for a long time, while New Bedford was "a little slow to catch up."

"Now that we're doing it, we're seeing results," he added.

"New Bedford is a safe city," he finished. "Not to say it's perfectly safe — we still have much work to do — but if you look at where New Bedford stands, for a city of 100,000, with our demographic profile, we are one of the safest in the country."

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