CONWAY — The town of Conway was recently deemed the third most dangerous town in New Hampshire by a website that does such rankings. It was the second year in a row it has been singled out for the "honor."
But Conway Police Chief Ed Wagner says to take that information with a grain of salt because the statistics are skewed by the fact that Conway is a tourist town and has many seasonal residents.
Last year, a real estate blog called Movoto.com declared Conway to be the third most dangerous town in the state (which also happens to be the safest in the nation).
The ranking was based on FBI numbers from 2012 for towns with over 10,000 people. The blog said Conway trailed Somersworth and Laconia in terms of crime. Manchester came in at No. 4. According to the data, Conway residents had a 1 in 21 chance of becoming a crime victim.
This year, a second website —Roadsnacks.net, which bills itself as a real-estate themed "infotainment" outlet from Durham, N.C. — released its report of dangerous towns in New Hampshire, based on FBI statistics from 2012 and 2013. Roadsnacks ranked Laconia as most dangerous, followed by Somersworth, Conway and Manchester.
"While Conway's the least violent of the top three, the city experienced a massive 36 percent rise in violent crime between 2011-13," Roadsnacks stated. "Property crime statistics, meanwhile, remained stagnant, with residents facing a 1 in 23 chance of being the victim of theft or arson each year — the highest rate in the state."
Wagner said the websites' methodology was flawed because it doesn't account for Conway's many visitors and part-time residents. Some seasons, the town's population is swelled by tens of thousands of transient visitors. If this were factored in, the odds of a resident becoming a crime victim would be much lower.
"Don't be afraid to walk around Conway, because it's not dangerous," Wagner said Thursday. "But let's not downplay that this is not the Conway of 10 or 15 years ago. There is much more crime than there used to be."
At one point, said Wagner, police determined that about half of the people they arrest are from out of town.
Conway Emergency Management Director Steve Solomon also said that the statistics are skewed by Conway's "transient demographic."
"If you calculate the crime rate on the population, including tourists and second-home owners, say 20,000 on an average weekend and 30,000 on a holiday weekend, which are the numbers we use for emergency planning, what would our crime rate and ranking be then?" Solomon asks rhetorically.
The Conway police force has 23 officer positions and operates 24 hours a day. Wagner said it's a "reactive" force because it lacks the manpower to do proactive patrols to deter crime. As for property crimes, Wagner said Conway has a number of second homes that get broken into and there are thefts from cars, too.
"I don't think this is a dangerous town, but we do have a lot of crime," said Wagner.
The Sun posted the Movoto and Roadsnacks articles on Facebook, where many readers strenuously disagreed with the websites' findings.
Jessica Thompson was among those who recognized the statistics were looked at on a per-capita basis.
"I'm sure some of the crimes were committed by out-of-towners and since during the busy periods we can have more then four times as many people in town than actually live here I'm sure this changes the numbers a little bit," said Thompson. "It also only looks at 20 towns in the whole state. There is a lot more then that."
Mark Frasier wrote that Manchester has 20 times more violent crime in half the land area. He said Manchester is 40 times more violent per square mile.
Steve Urquhart quipped: "New Hampshire has dangerous towns like Beverly Hills has poor neighborhoods."