Hot City: Crime on Smith Hill’s Oakland Avenue

Jul 29, 2013

With the rising temperatures comes a spike in crime across the capital city. In a series we’re calling Hot City: Crime in Providence we’re taking a look at summer crime by focusing the month of July. Last year the area encompassing Smith Hill, Elmhurst and the North End saw the highest number of crimes. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Catherine Welch visits a street in that area where a dozen crimes happened in one month.

On a muggy July evening, a constant stream of cars cruises down the six-block stretch of Oakland Avenue. Except for the hum of traffic, it’s a quiet evening. But that’s not always the case, said Chris Jenco who’s pushing a motor scooter toward his home.

A dozen crimes were reported on Oakland Avenue in Smith Hill in July of 2012.
Credit Catherine Welch / RIPR

“Last year I saw some guy get shot in a car and the car went into a building,” said Jenco. “I’ve seen multiple fights. Just last weekend some guy with a shot gun shot off his shot gun two or three times right in front of my house.” 

One block down, Jada Pitt’s waiting for a ride. When asked if he thinks Oakland Avenue is dangerous, he shrugs, “somewhat but not really. It’s pretty quiet.” It’s not the best place to live, he said, but it’s okay.

Oakland Avenue sits snug between Smith Street and the edge of the Providence College campus. Many residents here are students. They aren’t just PC students, they’re also from Johnson & Wales, Rhode Island College and others. The pizza boxes, red solo cups and sofa cushions littering the front yards of empty triple deckers paint a landscape similar to any student neighborhood in any college town in America.

Last summer in July there were 12 crimes on Oakland Avenue. They were mostly property crimes: items stolen out of cars, vandalism, a few burglaries. At one address there’s a report of vandalism and three days later a burglary.

Many of the houses along Oakland Avenue rent to college students, which locals say attract trouble.
Credit Catherine Welch / RIPR

Kayla, too nervous to give her last name, lives on Oakland Avenue. She’s taking her two pit bulls on their daily walk.  Looking over the list of crimes that happened on her street last year, she’s surprised by the number. “It does because it’s not the south side of Providence. It’s PC, area La Salle’s right down the street,” she said.

Her elderly neighbor complains about how the street has gone downhill since the students arrived.  One after another the triple deckers on Oakland Avenue have been turned into student housing – you can tell by the rental signs plastered on the front for “The 02908 Club.” It’s a property owner and management company that caters to students. The buildings have names like South Beach and Coco Beach. 

Kayla said she thinks the students who don’t live in Rhode Island don’t care about the neighborhood and when it’s summer they just leave.

A few blocks down, Rob Lena sits on his front porch looking at his smart phone. He’s a Johnson & Wales student who’s lived in the area for the last four years. He’s not surprised by the dozen crimes that took place on Oakland Avenue last July. His house was robbed, he said. It wasn’t that long ago. He woke up at three in the morning to see someone leaving his room. He thought maybe it was a friend or roommate.

“Next thing I knew my roommate’s running inside and he’s ‘yo somebody was in the house see if anything’s missing,’” said Lena, “so I’m like, that’s who I saw in my room. So I go and I check and my phone’s gone.”

Lena said he doesn’t feel like he’s in physical danger, “obviously my belongings might be in danger you know if you’re careless, you leave doors open, you could get robbed very easily.”

What sets crime in this Smith Hill neighborhood apart from other parts of Providence is that because of the student population leaving during the summer, crime actually cools down, while it heats up elsewhere.

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