Providence has seen 15 homicides so far this year, up from four this time last year. There were a total of 12 homicides last year.
Despite the apparently dramatic increase in homicides, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said that statistically, the homicide rate has not tripled or even doubled - it actually remains below the city's 20-year average.
Homicide rates are extremely volatile, Pare said. For example, there was an uncharacteristically low number of homicides from January to September of last year followed by five homicides in October alone.
"We had a triple homicide several weeks ago," Pare said. "We haven't had a triple homicide in several decades. When you have a crime like that, that's significantly tragic. It shocks the community."
Cases like last month's triple homicide have led officials to put more effort into combating violent crime in the city.
The majority of homicides were targeted - mostly resulting from conflicts involving drugs, debt, turf or insult - and not random acts, Pare said.
Because many of the homicides have been drug-related, the Providence police have upped attempts to infiltrate drug-dealing organizations and dismantle them in an effort to stem violence, Pare said.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 P'16 has also directed the state police to work in conjunction with local police and provide the city with additional resources, said Christine Hunsinger MPA'08, Chafee's communications director.
The majority of the homicides were committed using firearms, most of which were owned illegally. The police have continued their efforts to confiscate illegal guns through the operations of its gun task force, a special section of the police department that specializes in tracking down illegal firearms and their owners.
"We took 120 guns off the streets of Providence last year. Most of them were stolen," Pare said. "We've seized 11 this month, so we're on track to seize as many as we did last year."
In response to the increase in gun violence, Mayor Angel Taveras and his administration have pledged to advocate for stricter gun laws. According to Pare, Taveras wants to change the culture surrounding guns in the city by making illegal possession of a gun a federal offense and styling Providence's gun laws after New York City's.
Pare said he is confident that stricter gun laws will make a difference in the number of homicides. "If you can quickly get a gun after an emotional conflict, you're more likely to kill someone," he said.
But tighter gun laws will not ameliorate violent crime by themselves, Pare noted. Social programs will also be integral in lowering the homicide rate.
"If you look at New York back in the late '80s and early '90s, there was a lot of crime and violence, and they changed that," Pare said, "It wasn't just gun laws, but a variety of changes. There was a greater emphasis on quality of life and social programs. That helped drastically in the reduction of violent crime."
Both Taveras and Chafee have voiced their support for the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, an organization that helps programs prevent violence in the Providence community. Chafee wants to use some of the $500 million settlement that Rhode Island law enforcement agencies received in a lawsuit from Google last spring to support the organization, Hunsinger said. Taveras supports this initiative, Pare said.
The organization has a variety of youth programs, including one that hires young adults who have committed crimes and turns them into ambassadors for peace. Because these young adults understand the criminal mindset, they have been successful messengers in their communities, Pare said.
Taveras has also emphasized providing unemployed youth with job opportunities.
"The mayor has tried to find as many unemployed young adults as possible and put them to work, which makes a huge difference and takes away the propensity to commit criminal behavior," Pare said.
According to Paul Shanley, the deputy chief of police for the Brown Department of Public Safety, the current level of violence will most likely pose little threat to residents of College Hill.
"There's usually some type of relationship between the victim and the perpetrator," Shanley said. "I think the last homicide in this area was five years ago."