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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Crime increases in some areas as economy fails

Nothing about the failed bank robbery here earlier this month was ordinary.

The suspect, a 51-year-old woman, does not fit the typical criminal profile. The weapon, a crudely assembled fake bomb — a tangle of wires protruding from a handbag — is not often a weapon of choice. And the demand, $50,000, was relatively modest by some criminal standards.

The only thing about it that seemed to make sense to local Police Chief Robert DeMoura was Maria Oliva's explanation when she was caught a short distance from Rollstone Bank & Trust.

Frustrated by her inability to find a job, DeMoura says, Oliva told police she was pushed to the breaking point. The chief is not defending her alleged act, for which she has been charged. Yet it is only the latest in a rising number of offenses in this small northern Massachusetts city that DeMoura links to the failing economy.

Crime analysts differ over whether an economic downturn always precedes increasing crime. Since summer, when the first financial giants started to fall on Wall Street, law enforcement officials have been tracking domestic violence and property offenses — robbery, burglary and theft — for signs of trouble.

In the past 2½ months, Fitchburg has been hit by 22 robberies, an unprecedented number for any similar time period in a city where, the chief says, three or four robberies a month are the norm. Some of the targets have been stores where offenders have taken food and clothing in addition to money.

Thefts from cars have jumped by 164 from last year and car thefts have more than doubled. "This is something we've never seen before," the chief says. "There has to be some correlation" to the economy. [Mark Godsey]

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