, Derry, New Hampshire


April 25, 2012

Editorial: Violent month in New Hampshire defies easy answers

This month, there have been as many homicides in New Hampshire as the state typically sees in a year.

And the month isn't over yet.

The bloody month has some Granite State authorities wondering what is going on.

Over a span of just 13 days this April, New Hampshire has seen 15 violent deaths — 13 possible homicides and two suicides. From 2005 through 2010, FBI statistics show New Hampshire averaged just 13 murders a year, making the state one of the safer in the nation.

Reporter John Toole asked some of those in New Hampshire law enforcement what they thought about the violent streak.

"It seems like something is wrong," said retired judge J. Albert Lynch of Pelham. "It's too much. It's too crazy."

Don Vittum, the director of the state's police academy, told Toole he can't remember a similar stretch in 40 years in law enforcement.

Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams wondered whether the increase reflect a real trend or is just an anomaly.

"It is clear that New Hampshire is not immune to the type of violence generally seen elsewhere," Reams said.

No, New Hampshire has no immunity from violence, as the recent horrifying news from Greenland demonstrates. But New Hampshire has a long record of being a safe, peaceable state.

The murder rate has been declining in the state for 20 years, former state prosecutor Charles Putnam, co-director of Justiceworks, a research institute at the University of New Hampshire, told Toole.

The state averaged 30 murders a year from 1987 through 1991, and 28 a year from 1974 through 1977. And the murder rate of 13 annually from 2005 to 2010 pales in comparison to that of a metropolitan area such as New York City, which averaged 467.8 annually in the same years.

The statistics refute those who would like to blame the state's unrestrictive gun laws, which are still virtually the same as they were when the murder rate was declining. Easy answers are usually the wrong ones.

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