What’s the answer to rising crime?

Monday’s bank robbery at gunpoint at the GFA Federal Credit Union in Peterborough reminds us that as safe as we are in rural southern New Hampshire, we’re not only surrounded by crime. Sometimes, we’re right in the middle of it.

We’ve had our share of high-profile incidents in the past few years. In 2010, we saw a string of armed robberies in our region, including the N.H. State Liquor Store in Jaffrey, TD Bank branches in Peterborough and in New Ipswich, the GFA Credit Union in Rindge and Pizza Peddler in Peterborough. Just this year, we saw an armed robbery of Hobbs Jewelers during broad daylight in Depot Square. And we have our share of lesser crimes that fail to make the big headlines. But they do eat away at our sense of safety.

Just last week, Bennington had four burglaries, three of which have been solved with the help of the public, Police Chief Steve Campbell said Wednesday. “That’s all because someone was paying attention,” he said.

Campbell has been on the Bennington police force since 1995 and chief since 1996. He says thefts of all kinds seem to be on the rise. Where once people felt comfortable leaving their front doors and cars unlocked, Campbell said today almost everyone is locking up.

There are no good answers about why theft crimes are up, but Campbell said he sees and hears that many suspects are out of work and supporting drug habits, and heroin is chief among them. In the case of Adam Belleville, 24, of Manchester, who is being sought on a warrant for three out of the four recent Bennington burglaries, Campbell said he suspects drugs are involved.

Rindge Police Chief Frank Morrill echoes those sentiments. His town has had two bank robberies in the past six years, and he said both of those were connected to suspected drug users. And the drug that’s driving much of the crime, he says, is heroin.

Asked what people can do to protect the community, Campbell said, “Know your neighbors, watch your neighborhood, and report anything suspicious.”

Morrill pointed to another solution. He noted that Keene recently opened a pilot drug court that aims to tackle the drug issue through treatment rather than jail. It’s still too early to tell what kind of effect it’s having, but the notion is convincing. Why spend $40,000 a year on an inmate who is likely to deepen a dependency while in prison, only to return to that lifestyle once back on the streets? Instead, spending $10,000 to get that person off drugs, employed and into a stable environment will save taxpayers money. And it’ll make our communities safer as well.

Statewide numbers show crime rates per 100,000 inhabitants on the whole have gone up, as one might expect, since the 1960s. The 2000s saw a marked jump in robberies over the 1990s, going for example from 21.4 cases per 100,000 residents to 36.7 cases in the year 2000. And robbery rates have fluctuated up and down from there, with the rate at 35.7 cases per 100,000 in 2012. But in 2008, New Hampshire was ranked the 44th lowest out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in incidences of robbery.

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