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Methuen, North Andover See Reduction in Crime

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By: Eric Spagnoli- June, 2021

While crime has increased across the country in the last year – particularly violent crime – The Valley Patriot has found that almost all categories of crime have decreased in the Merrimack Valley over the last two years. Last month we reported that almost all categories of crime decreased in the last two years in the cities of Haverhill and Lawrence. This month, we look at the crime numbers in the Town of North Andover and the City of Methuen.

METHUEN

Despite the turmoil in the Methuen Police Department in the last few years – including political interference in the department – the Methuen Police Department has reported a 24% reduction in calls for service from 2019 to 2020. The leading reasons for calls to the Methuen Police include medical assistance, disturbances, and motor vehicle stops.
Calls for Part 1 crimes (crimes used by the FBI to calculate the crime index and crime rate) have shown a decrease include murder, robbery, and burglary. Meanwhile, calls involving motor vehicle theft and aggravated assault have both increased.

In regard to quality-of-life calls to police, the number of overdoses has decreased by 32%, and the number of overdose deaths has gone down from 12 in 2019 to 9 in 2020.

Despite this improvement, however, the number of calls involving mental health has gone up by 44%. In 2021, the number of mental health calls continues to rise, as the police department has received over half of its 2020 number of calls already.

In an interview with The Valley Patriot regarding the numbers of quality-of-life calls for service, City Councilor Eunice Zeigler says that the increased need for mental health services is partly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also discussed the efforts the city has made and continues to make in response to this dilemma and what she believes is needed to alleviate it.

“We’ve had conversations on what we can do to better support our families who may need access to mental health services. The mayor’s office has had a number of mental health professionals bringing it to the forefront through community-wide newsletters.

The city council also has a substance abuse and mental health committee.”

Despite the city council’s awareness of this problem and the resources already available to Methuen residents, Zeigler noted that more action and funding is needed to properly combat this growing concern.

“One of the things we can bring more focus to as a commonwealth is not only additional funding, but additional education, as well. We have a department within the district that acts as a resource for students who are in need of mental health services.”

In addition to the apparent mental health crisis, there appears to be a major concern regarding identity theft in the city. MPD has reported that the number of calls for identity theft has gone up from 52 to 416, a 700% increase. In addition, the number of calls for identity theft in 2021 (as of May 4th) stands at 52 already.

Zeigler acknowledged the relation between identity theft reports and the pandemic, discussed the city’s efforts to address the problem, and also assured that this issue is not unique to Methuen.

“{Identity theft] is something that’s been happening across the country. Because of the pandemic, we need to be more connected digitally, but as a result, hacking has gone up.
“The city has conducted a few seminars, especially for elderly people, helping residents to recognize online scams,” continued Zeigler. “It’s something we’re going to have to continue to watch across the state and country.”

Overall, Zeigler remains optimistic about the future of Methuen and emphasized the resilience of the community and its ability to come together, despite the challenging year that 2020 brought many residents.

“One of the beautiful things that came out of the pandemic is that people were more connected. We all had to reconcile with the restrictions that were imposed to try to keep us safe. It really created a sense of community.”

At Large City Councilor D.J. Beauregard told the Valley Patriot that the decrease in most crime numbers is due to the COVID pandemic.

“I think the Methuen Police Department has done a tremendous job combating the opioid crisis through increased engagement with the community. However, there is still much more work to be done, Beauregard said.

“I would say that the steep drop in calls for service between 2019 and 2020 can probably be attributed to the pandemic. A report from MarketWatch found that overall, crime fell 23 percent during the first month of the COVID-19 lockdown and has since remained lower than usual. In terms of the decline in overdose deaths, this is likely attributable to the increased use of naloxone, (NARCAN) a lifesaving medication that is widely used by emergency medical personnel and other first responders to prevent opioid overdose deaths. According to a recent study, a naloxone distribution program in Massachusetts reduced opioid overdose deaths, without increasing opioid use, by an estimated 11 percent.”

At Large Councilor Nick DiZoglio told The Valley Patriot that part of the reason for the increase in identity theft and electronic crimes were due to a hacking of various cities’ computer systems last year.

We contacted Randy Haggar of The Methuen Police Department but, he refused to comment or get back to us to discuss the reasons for Methuen’s crime rate.

NORTH ANDOVER 

North Andover has seen an overall increase in crime from 2019 to 2020. The total number of Group A offenses has gone up from 406 to 629, a 36% increase. However, most of this increase can be attributed to only one category of crime: impersonation. There have been 294 reports of impersonation in 2020, none of which have been cleared by the police department.

Impersonation (likely associated with cybercrime/fraud) has made up for 46% of North Andover’s reported crime in 2020. Excluding this staggering statistic, crime rates would appear to have stayed the same or even dropped slightly from 2019 to 2020.

Similar to Methuen’s soaring increase in identity theft, this wild shift indicates a wave of illegal cyber activity in the Valley, likely a result of the pandemic’s pushing criminals towards digital means.

Other than the impersonation issue, the crime numbers in North Andover have remained steady. There has only been one additional report of vandalism (33 to 34) and simple assault (43 to 44) in 2020.

Additionally, 2020 marks the second year in a row that North Andover has seen zero reported cases of murder or manslaughter.

When asked if the COVID-19 pandemic affected the crime rate in North Andover, Detective Lieutenant E.J. Foulds said that some crimes were affected.

“We’ve seen an uptick in crimes that involve some type of substance abuse and/or mental health, as well as domestic violence issues, due to the fact that people have been cooped up. Some of those services weren’t readily available. We also saw a huge decline in larceny.”

There were 294 reports of impersonation in North Andover in 2020, (identity theft) none of which have been cleared by the police department.

We asked Foulds why he thinks this number has increased, and why he believes there has been an apparent difficulty in clearing these reported crimes?

“The majority of those cases are part of unemployment scams. Back in July of 2020, the Department of Unemployment Assistance noticed that there were nationwide unemployment scams due to a data breach. Probably 90% of our impersonation complaints were tied in with that. We were taking 10-15 calls per day regarding that issue.”

“We try to get out information on social media. Most people become aware of it themselves, but the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has set up a reporting portal because there were so many claims.

Foulds said that the biggest piece of advice he can give to North Andover residents to help people recognize scams and identity theft is to Monitor your credit score.

Foulds said that the North Andover Police take the issue of identity theft and on-line scams very seriously.

“The town of North Andover does several information sessions per year, where we walk through different case scenarios of scams. A lot of it targets the elderly. If someone is a victim of a scam, we will try to recover as much money as possible, but a lot of it depends on how they were scammed. Many of these scams operate out of the country, so we work with the FBI and the federal government to track down scammers and stolen money. IC3 (3-point scams): a reporting portal for the FBI. These cases are time sensitive. There’s waiting periods at each stop depending on the amount of money stolen. We’ve had some luck recovering money for people, but everything depends on how they were scammed and how the money was exchanged. Because scammers can hide behind so many layers on the internet, in a lot of these cases, we don’t have much luck.

Foulds said that the impersonation problem inaccurately represents crime in North Andover, “90% of the cases are unemployment fraud where no money was lost. It’s a categorization issue.”

Excluding the number of reported cases of impersonation, the crime rate appears to have held steady or even slightly dropped in 2020. Foulds said that the police department, and the town as a whole, has had to think differently to deter criminals.
“Our goal is to staff the city/town with the right amount of police officers on every shift. We also try to make sure they’re doing proactive police work, which means getting out of your car, speaking to people, making sure good information is being passed along, roll call to the officers, directed patrols, etc. We make sure that we’re doing extra work during certain times a year (Christmas, summer months, etc.) and in certain parts of town. If you deal with the quality-of-life issues, and you do it right, other crimes will decrease.”

When asked if the North Andover Police Department is having difficulty finding people who want to be police officers, he said that the current state of policing is having an effect.

“I think we’re seeing a little bit of dip in terms of people wanting to get into this position. We just graduated 3 from the police academy, and 3 people just entered the police academy. Veteran’s preference. It’s not quite as competitive to get into this position nowadays.”

SPAGNOLIEric Spagnoli is a Senior English and Communication student at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, NH. He is an aspiring journalist with a passion for sports, comedy, and public service. You can email him: espagnoli@Anselm.Edu ◊

ValleyPatriot

ValleyPatriot

The Valley Patriot is a free monthly print newspaper serving Northern Massachusetts, and Southern New Hampshire. The print edition is published by the 10th of each month and is distributed to 51 cities and towns.

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