Police meet with community after robberies

Brookline Police Department Chief Daniel O'Leary discusses recent robberies and assaults at a Brookline community meeting Monday night. PHOTO BY KENSHIN OKUBO/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Brookline Police Department Chief Daniel O’Leary discusses recent robberies and assaults at a Brookline community meeting Monday night. PHOTO BY KENSHIN OKUBO/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

In response to a recent string of robberies in the Brookline and Boston University area, Brookline Police Department officials hosted a community meeting Wednesday night to address residents’ concerns.

While Brookline Police are concerned about recent Brookline-area crimes, including a string of armed robberies and attempted armed robberies in which BU students were victims, the overall crime rate has decreased, said Brookline Police Chief Daniel O’Leary.

“It is difficult to drive crime to zero, but I would say that we have done a pretty good job of keeping it down,” O’Leary said at the meeting. “The last four years have been our lowest [crime rate] since 1994.”

About 60 Brookline residents attended the meeting, held at The Edward Devotion School on Harvard Street.

During the meeting, Brookline Police officials presented data on the area’s crime rates over the past 11 years.

Though robberies have increased by 1.8 percent in the past year, violent crime has decreased, according to the presentation.

“Since Sept. 1, there have been six robberies in Brookline,” O’Leary said. “There have been more on the other side of Commonwealth Avenue, and we have worked with the BU Police Department on those and went to a community meeting at BU.”

Seven victims in the six robberies were Brookline residents and two of the six robberies are still active cases, O’Leary said. Arrests have been made for the four remaining robberies.

BU students were among the victims in a string of eight robberies and attempted robberies and one stabbing in the area near West Campus and North Brookline during the 2012-13 academic year.

BUPD Chief Tom Robbins said Brookline residents should be impressed with Brookline Police and how officers have handled the crimes.

“First and foremost, you should be proudest of your police department,” Robbins said at the meeting. “The arrests of these individuals are due to the quality of your police department.”

Robbins said a part of the hype surrounding recent crimes could be attributed to local news coverage and not necessarily to an unusual spike in criminal activity.

“Most of the crime on campus and surrounding areas has been trending down dramatically,” Robbins said. “Every so often we get high-profile crimes that attract a lot of media attention, so we are also dealing with the perception of crime.”

Several residents said they were concerned about the lack of notification they had received in the aftermath of the string of robberies in their community.

Receiving timely alerts is crucial for people in the area, said Martin Anderson, a 41-year-old Brookline resident.

“I missed the first incident by three minutes,” Anderson said. “Getting the information out as quickly as possible could be the difference.”

Miriam Hoffman, a BU professor of family medicine who lives in Brookline, said having a community-wide mass mailing or central repository would be helpful for residents.

“I think we definitely need to increase the two-way communication, but the people in this room are a very self-selective group — the people who knew about this meeting and have been paying attention,” she said.

Peter Ditto, the Brookline director of engineering and transportation, said Brookline has been working on a pilot program to change street lights in the area to increase nighttime visibility. The test areas were Kenwood Street, Verndale Street and Columbia Street.

Christine Cromartie, a 41-year-old Brookline resident, said only using technology to spread the word about local crime might leave some residents in the dark.

“Not all elderly people are computer literate,” she said. “Sometimes paper works best.”

In response to residents asking for a system similar to the BU Alert System, O’Leary said Brookline residents should refer to Brookline Police’s Twitter account and blog.

“I am not a Twitter user and I don’t want to be, but to have some kind of system is incredibly important,” said Cassie Weiner, a 36-year-old from Brookline. “I have to say it’s really disturbing to find out the house next door to me was robbed and the neighbors were never notified.”

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