Needham Police respond to hundreds of traffic accidents each year./ Credit: Needham Observer

The Needham Police Department’s annual report for 2023 is high on data but low on surprises after a year that saw the department’s overall volume of activity return to pre-pandemic levels.

Over the course of 2023, the NPD had a total of 50,047 calls for service, an increase of more than 6,000 calls from 2022 and a return to what the department had typically received prior to the socio-economic impacts of COVID.

Chief John Schlittler, Deputy Chief Chris Baker and Kelsey Cournoyer, the department’s crime analyst, reviewed the report with the Select Board last month. They provided both data and analysis of crimes that occurred within the town and other findings from the variety of calls. 

The more serious “Group A” incidents were up 18%, a significant percentage, but largely due to motor vehicle-related activity.

Thefts of motor vehicles more than doubled, from seven to 16, while thefts from motor vehicles almost quadrupled, from 13 to 50. Nationally, vehicle theft rates have risen steadily since 2019, with Massachusetts experiencing a 16% increase last year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.  

Needham reflected another national trend of adding resources, staff and training in response to mental health-related calls. In 2023, the department responded to 184 such calls, a 12% increase over 2022.

Beginning in 2019, the Needham and Dedham police departments shared a part-time clinician from Riverside Community Care to support the response to calls where mental health issues were in play. In July 2023, Needham upped that commitment by funding its own full-time clinician from Riverside, Emily Turnbull, who is now available exclusively to Needham for five eight-hour shifts every week. 

Turnbull works with the department’s community outreach officer and other NPD officers who have completed extensive training in crisis intervention. She has access to reports of incidents involving mental health and substance abuse and is available for co-response to calls. 

When appropriate, Turnbull can also remain in contact with an individual and follow up after the call to possibly avert a recurring incident. 

“Typically, if I do interact with an individual and we come up with some kind of plan collaboratively, I would then look at following up with them the next day or the next couple of days, just so they check in to see how they’re doing and obviously also to offer further support,” she said.

Arrests and traffic issues

There were 64 arrests in Needham last year, four more than in 2022. Two-thirds (42) of those arrested were non-Needham residents and 52 of the 64 were male. 

Of those arrested, 35 (55% percent) were white; 16 (25 percent) were black, 12 (18.75%) were Hispanic and one (1.6%) was Asian. The arrests included 23 related to outstanding warrants, 18 for operating under influence and 15 for domestic assault and battery.

Another sign the NPD is back to pre-pandemic norms was the dramatic increase in motor vehicle stops. In 2023, NPD officers made 4,900 traffic stops, an increase of more than 2,000 from the previous year. In 85% of those stops the driver was a non-Needham resident.

More than nine in 10 drivers who were stopped drove away with either a verbal warning (3,020) or a written warning (1,433), and only 6% had their wallets lightened by a civil fine.

Motor vehicle accidents, meanwhile, remained stable. There were 450 accidents reported, just one fewer than in 2022. A total of 55 accidents involved injuries, one fatal.

June had the most crashes (55), while February had the least (17). Tuesdays had more crashes (81) than any other day, and Sunday had the fewest (23). 

And if you want to pick an hour to stay off the road, avoid the hours between 2 and 3 p.m., when 51 accidents occurred, the most of any one-hour time block.

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