Pandemic reduces crime, as Bristol police step up their game

Annual Report shows decline in criminal activity and increase in modernization and engagement

By Scott Pickering
Posted 4/30/21

The pandemic can take credit for having one positive impact on Bristol. It significantly reduced crime.

According to statistics released by the Bristol Police Department, arrests, citations and …

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Pandemic reduces crime, as Bristol police step up their game

Annual Report shows decline in criminal activity and increase in modernization and engagement

Posted

The pandemic can take credit for having one positive impact on Bristol. It significantly reduced crime.

According to statistics released by the Bristol Police Department, arrests, citations and warnings all declined dramatically, by 50 percent or more, from 2019 to 2020. Officers made 535 arrests in 2019; last year they made 253. Officers charged 28 people with driving under the influence in 2019; last year they charged only 14. They issued nearly 4,000 warnings in 2019; last year they issued just 1,500.

By all measures, in all categories, criminal activity and reckless behaviors declined in the year that Covid-19 arrived and altered all human behavior.

One thing did not change, however — calls to police. Despite the decline in nearly every form of criminal behavior, as well as 236 fewer motor vehicle accidents, officers were called for assistance almost as much as ever. In 2018, Bristol police officers either responded to or self-initiated 38,677 calls for service — an average of 106 per day. In 2019, they responded to 38,996 calls for service, or 107 per day. Last year, there were 37,809 calls for service — still 104 times per day.

So there was a lot less crime, bars were mostly closed, roads were empty at times, there were a lot fewer accidents … yet officers were as busy as ever. Doing what?

A little bit of everything.

“As a department, we were still busy, we were just busy in a different way,” said Capt. Brian Burke. “We handled a lot of quality of life issues.”

As evidenced by the weekly police report in this paper, neighbors stuck at home and living closely with one another did not always get along. Police investigated thousands of complaints about noise, social gatherings, verbal disagreements or contentious behavior. They responded to thousands more calls about animals — sick, injured, unruly or deceased. And they found new and creative ways to utilize their manpower.

Police release first Annual Report

All of these 2020 statistics are contained in an unprecedented, new annual report for the Bristol Police Department. Led by Chief Kevin Lynch, the department has published a 40-page report on its activities and accomplishments in 2020 and made it available to the public (find it on their revamped website under the heading “Transparency and Accountability”).

The report includes all the statistics cited above, plus a lot more.

It celebrates the arrival of Brody, the new K-9 officer. It reveals the command structure and job descriptions for the whole department. It recognizes officer promotions, the addition of a second school resource officer, state and national accreditation for the department, executive-level educational training for all lieutenants and captains in the department, and the launch of the anonymous Tip411 program for mobile phones. It describes a new online reporting feature on the department’s website, allowing people to quickly submit complaints or request service, all without visiting the station.

The report touts a new automated system for tracking officer details, schedules and hours (replacing what was still pen and paper logs), and it describes the department’s increased use of social media to engage the public, including a new “9 PM Routine” alert reminding people to secure their homes and autos each night.

Officer assigned to cold cases

As for utilizing manpower more efficiently, the department assigned an officer to investigate cold cases, used two others to make building improvements at police headquarters, and assigned a detective to a Rhode Island State Police drug trafficking task force.

Capt. Burke and Chief Lynch said all the changes in 2020 accomplished many things: they made the department more modern and accessible to the public, but they also made the community safer and more self-aware. The chief said the anonymous tip program led to some narcotics arrests, and Capt. Burke said the online reporting tools opened doors to complaints that the public might never have shared previously.

“An officer’s first thought when they leave the station is not to make an arrest, it’s how to make a difference in the community,” Chief Lynch said. “Many of them live here, and many of them care about how Bristol is perceived. They work really hard to uphold the community values.”

As part of the department’s commitment to be transparent and open to the public, the annual report included a breakdown on “use of force” incidents and internal investigations of professional standards. The department self-investigated six incidents where force was used and determined force was justified in all those instances. It also conducted four investigations of officer conduct — three self-initiated and one from a citizen complaint. Only one was substantiated (not the one generated by a private citizen).

‘A dream come true’

Chief Lynch began working in Bristol in the fall of 2019, after a long career with the Cranston Police Department and stints as a university professor and director of the state’s Public Utilities Commission. He approaches his job today with a zeal born decades ago.

“I’m here because I want to do this job,” the chief said. “I’m very humbled to be the police chief here, I’ll be honest with you. It was a boyhood dream of mine to be a chief of police in a community like this. This town is unique, in so many ways … there are so many things that keep the residents engaged in the community. This is a very special place.”

Read the  Bristol Police Dept. Annual Report here.

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

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Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.