Peter Reuell 508-626-4428
Downtown Framingham defies crime stats Sunday, November 27, 2005
Metrowest Daily News
Though the perception may be that downtown is a hub of criminal activity in town, Framingham Police Department statistics suggest the region is responsible for only a small percentage of crime in town.

Statistics compiled by Framingham Police show the downtown is responsible for less than one quarter of all the arrests made in town, and in just four of the 21 categories tracked by police is the region responsible for 50 percent or more of the crimes committed.

"There is a perception that there's crimes that occur downtown," Deputy Police Chief Ken Ferguson said this week.  "We find that the perception isn't in tune with reality.

"There isn't as much crime that occurs downtown as people think."

That's not to say there's no crime at all.

Police readily admit they make arrests in the downtown, but officials this week said the area isn't the hotbed of criminal activity some would believe it to be.

In 2004, the most recent full year for which statistics are available, 774 people were arrested in the downtown, statistics show.  Townwide, meanwhile, nearly 3,300 arrests were made.

Though the downtown did account for the majority of crimes in categories like prostitution, stolen property, runaways and arson, those four categories account for just seven calls to police in downtown all year.

In some of the most serious categories, though, including rape, weapons violations, burglary, assault and motor vehicle theft, the downtown accounted for a maximum of 38 percent of the total reported incidents.

Still, Police Chief Steven Carl said, the image of an unsafe downtown persists, and changing it isn't easy.

"It is a huge challenge for the police, and the community," Carl said, of changing the downtown's reputation.  "(But) we can't arrest our way out of it."

Despite the efforts of Carl and his department, some who work in the downtown this week said they still sometimes feel unsafe.

Though he admitted to occasionally feeling nervous downtown, Vera Jewelers co-owner John Freitas said he trusts that the police will respond quickly, and in force, to any emergency.

"It is bad, but the police do a good job," he said.

Since the store opened in downtown in 1991, it's been robbed three times, he said, but the police were always quickly on the scene.

"They were very helpful," he said.  "There is crime, yes...but if you compare it to Dorchester, it's not that bad.  There is always a concern, but what are you going to do?  I use my best judgment.  Most of the time, it's safe."

Just a few doors down, at the Western Union office, manager Roberto Aragao said that while he's heard talk of crime in the downtown, he's never seen it.

"I've never had a problem," he said.

Two years ago, the business was broken into during a holiday weekend and thieves made off with a safe, but Aragao said it was empty.

"I really don't have any problem with the crime over here," AmericanoBorges, an employee at South Exchange, said.  "I've never seen any kind of crime."

Though he's heard stories, and the currency-exchange business installed an electronic lock on its doors, Borges said he's never felt unsafe on Framingham's streets.

"We never had any kind of crime over here," he said.

The truth, Aragao said, is that if crime is a problem in the downtown, it may be going on after dark, when most business owners have closed up shop.

As mixed-use condominium developments begin to open downtown -- the Kendall Building is nearing completion and work has begun on the nearby Dennison complex - the image of downtown may soon change, he said.

"To tell the truth, I don't really see any reason to be around after dark," he said.  "There's nothing to do in the downtown, except the Chinese-food bar next door."

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