NORTH ADAMS — Though violent crime is declining statewide and nationally, it continues to rise in Berkshire County's two cities.
For the second year in a row, North Adams and Pittsfield rank among the cities and the towns with the highest violent crime rate in Massachusetts, according to federal data.
North Adams had the highest violent crime rate in Massachusetts in 2017, while Pittsfield's was the fifth-highest, according to new figures released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in September.
North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard described the report as "disappointing, but not surprising" given the city's historical crime rate.
"We have work to do; we know we have work to do," Bernard told The Eagle on Monday. "If you look at the population of communities we're in with, it's post-industrial communities that are continuing to revitalize and reinvent themselves."
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The overall number of violent crimes North Adams reported ticked up from 181 in 2016 to 193 in 2017, an increase in the per-capita rate from 1.38 percent to 1.49 percent. There were 15 rapes, 11 robberies, and 167 aggravated assaults reported in North Adams in 2017.
In Pittsfield, the number of reported violent crimes rose from 340 to 375, a jump in the per-capita violent crime rate from 0.79 percent to 0.88 percent.
Elsewhere, the picture is improving.
Statewide, violent crime decreased for the sixth consecutive year, according to the report.
Nationally, there was a 0.2 percent reduction in violent crime, including a 0.7 percent decrease in murders and a 4 percent decrease in robberies.
The North Adams Police Department has undertaken new efforts that Bernard hopes will begin to lower the crime rate in the coming years.
North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio said the community struggles with mental health issues and addiction to drugs and alcohol.
The department has worked to increase its presence in schools and neighborhoods while increasing its collaboration with mental health professionals and staff in local courts, Cozzaglio said.
For example, the department just launched a new program this week that allows for a Brien Center clinician to respond along with police to a call with a person in crisis. The program had already been utilized by Monday, including about an hour prior to Cozzaglio's discussion with The Eagle.
When it comes to reporting the crimes, Cozzaglio noted, the department does not try to obfuscate the data. The crimes are recorded as they are called in, even if the case ultimately never leads to an arrest or criminal prosecution.
"We report the crimes as they come in to us. We don't put them into some 'other' checkbox," he said. "We document as reported."
Bernard also noted that the City Council recently approved the administration's efforts to withdraw the North Adams Police Department from the Civil Service system, which limits the pools of candidates the department can hire for an open position.
The city claims it can institute its own testing to ensure it hires qualified police officers, without having to stick to a list of potential candidates provided by Civil Service — making hiring more efficient.
Property crimes reported in North Adams — which include burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson — actually dropped notably in 2017, from 433 to 399. In Pittsfield, property crimes rose from 1,016 to 1,092.
In terms of crime statistics, both North Adams and Pittsfield are negatively impacted by their declining populations. As the overall population decreases, the violent crime rate increases — even if the actual number of violent crimes stays the same.
In North Adams, the population dropped from 13,162 in 2016 to 12,948 in 2017, a decline of 1.6 percent.
The population saw a similar dip in Pittsfield, from 43,031 in 2016 to 42,546 in 2017.
Despite the relatively high crime rate, Bernard maintains North Adams is a safe city, a sentiment that Cozzaglio emphatically echoed.
"By and large, we're looking at crimes that are not random. The ability to walk down the street safely is there," Bernard said.
Adam Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.