SCHENECTADY — Tyler Bellick was a student at Central Park Middle School when he began to notice something.
It was the early 2000s, and an influx of Guyanese students began populating the school’s hallways, a culture the now 32-year-old Bellick recalls knowing little about, but learned to quickly embrace.
“I never heard of Guyana before that, or a Guyanese individual, and all of a sudden there were lots of Guyanese students in Schenectady schools,” Bellick said. “Especially by the time I got to high school, I would say a good portion of my friends were actually Guyanese natives.”
The increase in Guyanese population can be attributed to a policy by then-mayor Al Jurczynski, a Republican, who in 2001 worked to recruit immigrants from Guyana and their Guyanese-American descendants living in New York City to live in Schenectady in hopes of addressing neighborhood blight.
The city, at the time, began selling rundown homes for as little as $1 to individuals who could prove they had the wherewithal to revitalize them, and Guyanese individuals and their families began migrating north to the Electric City to buy into the dream.
Twenty years later, the Guyanese population in Schenectady has exploded, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which indicates that more than 5,600 city residents, or around 10% of the city’s population of 64,000, were born in Guyana — a number that has increased each year, according to census estimates.
Over the years the Guyanese community has helped change the face of the city by revitalizing properties and opening new businesses, while sharing their customs and religion. Individuals from the community have also shaped policy after being elected to the City Council and school board. Holi, one of the most sacred religions in the Hindu religion, is now an observed holiday in city schools.
But there’s one thing that Guyanese immigrants and their American descendants have not contributed to in the city: Crime.
Today, Bellick is a PhD student at the University at Albany studying sociological criminology and urban sociology and the impacts that Guyanese immigrants have had on crime in the city is the subject of his first peer review study published last month in the journal City & Community.
Along with his co-authors, Bellick spent years sifting through police crime data and data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau and Community Surveys from 2000 to 2017 to determine if Schenectady’s Guyanese population had any impact on crime in the city over the last two decades.
The study began in 2016, during the early years of former President Donald Trump’s administration, who repeatedly claimed that immigrants contributed to increased crime and sought to curtail immigration, further inflaming policy talk that has long been debated.
But Bellick said as a researcher, he knew that wasn’t the case, noting that a number of studies have actually shown that an influx in immigration has led to a decline in crime in local neighborhoods.
Along with his advisor, Samantha Friedman, and Michael Barton, a graduate of UAlbany’s Sociology Department and an associate professor at Louisiana State University, Bellick sought to examining the topic further using Schenectady’s efforts to bolster the Guyanese population that began back when he was in middle school and has prompted concerns from some locally about adding to the crime rate.
Matthew Douglas of the Schenectady Police Department is also listed as an author to the study. Douglas provided extensive crime data used by researchers to complete the study.
Bellick said prior studies on the subject focused on Latino immigrant populations in large cities, but not much research has gone into a non-Latino population like the Guyanese in a small city like Schenectady.
“We saw this as an opportunity to look at a non-Latino group in a small city that kind of proactively facilitated this migration of immigrants to come to their city,” he said.
The study examined 59,462 incidents of crime, which were then geocoded using census data, which essentially gave researchers a map of where crimes were taking place in relation to areas of the city seeing an increase in Guyanese population.
The results: Schenectady’s Guyanese population has had no impact on the city’s crime rate.
”While we did not find changes in the percent foreign-born Guyanese to be associated with declines in neighborhood rates of violent or property crimes, we also did not find changes in the percent foreign-born Guyanese to be positively associated with either form of crime,” the study reads.
But Bellick noted that the study found increased homeownership led to a decrease in crime, and while there isn’t enough data to say that the city’s Guyanese population played a direct role, the correlation is hard to ignore.
“We can’t say that the Guyanese caused that, but what I think we can say is that during our study period we did see a large homeownership in the city of Schenectady and we’re pretty confident that can be partly attributed to the Guyanese buying homes at this time due to various city initiatives,” Bellick said.
The study suggests that Schenectady’s Guyanese immigration initiative can be used as an example for other small cities seeking to address blight, something Bellick said he would like to see done moving forward.
“Instead of trying to keep immigrants out, looking at how we can attract immigrants to come to small cities and what particular kind of skills or attributes those immigrant groups might have to actually help a city flourish,” he said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected]