Last Friday the Salem City Club had a program with the provocative title, Does Salem Have a Crime Problem? Perceptions and Realities.
It featured Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack, and two neighborhood association chairs: Lynn Takata of Northeast Neighbors and Cory Poole of the Southeast Mill Creek Association.
Womack started things off by sharing slides of some of the 2008-2022 crime statistics that are available for viewing on the City of Salem web site. Below are screenshots from that web page.
This is the most inclusive crime statistic. NIBRS includes homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny, and arson. The trend line of the rate per 100,000 Salem residents over the past 15 years is flat. So overall the crime rate is very stable.
Homicides, or murders, get a lot of attention. But they're rare in Salem, ranging from 1 to 9 homicides a year over the past 15 years. This leads to a lot of fluctuations in the homicide rate. Yes, it is trending upward slightly, from 3.0 per 100,000 population to about 3.7. However, that trend line is so dependent on rare homicide events, it isn't very meaningful.
The overall violent crime rate is trending upward, though. This includes homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The rape rate is declining, while the rates for the other violent offenses are increasing.
Property crime is the most common category of crime in Salem. It includes burglary, larceny, arson, and motor vehicle theft. The property crime rate has been decreasing somewhat over the past 15 years. Burglary and larceny rates are trending downward, while motor vehicle theft and arson are trending upward.
So the Police Department data show that overall, the rate of crime in Salem has been stable from 2008-2022. A rise in the violent crime rate has been offset by a decline in the property crime rate.
This might explain why Chief Womack said about the question of whether Salem has a crime problem, it depends on someone's tolerance level. He added that different neighborhoods have different crime rates, so perceptions about a crime problem will vary for this reason.
In fact, Takata noted that perceptions can vary among people on different sides of the same city park. Poole also observed that perceptions about crime can differ from the data. One reason for this could be that burglaries and other property crimes sometimes aren't reported, since people feel that police won't do anything about the crime.
Which is a valid feeling, since Womack said that the police department is focusing on violent crime and traffic fatalities.