The arrest of a pair of teenagers on charges of street muggings prompted Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares to issue a warning.
“As the economy worsens, crimes of opportunity like the robberies committed by these two teens will continue to rise,” Soares said. “Our residents should be aware of this threat and take precautions when walking the streets at night.”
Local law enforcement officials say they have seen a slight increase in crimes, which might be related to the poor economy. But, they say, it doesn’t seem widespread.
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III said his office saw a slight increase in what he called white collar crime in the last several weeks.
“I think the county as a whole is behind our neighbors on the economic downturn,” he said. “We haven’t seen an increase in overall crime this year, although the last month or so we have had several identity theft cases, petty thefts and check kiting.”
There are some pockets in the county where last year saw a significant increase in crime.
Larcenies in the city of Mechanicville were up 86 percent last year and Police Chief Joseph Waldron said most of the thefts were made from unlocked cars when thieves made away with credit cards, cash and a huge number of CDs.
“I’d say we’re seeing more crimes of opportunity, and I think it has to do with the general downturn of the economy,” he said. “We’re seeing more bounced checks and credit card thefts. These are things that can point to people simply not having money.”
District attorneys in the region agree that the rising unemployment rate and general unease people seem to have about money seems to be driving an increase in some crimes.
The Federal Trade Commission collects identity theft complaints from consumers throughout the year and reports them the following year.
According to 2008’s report, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area saw the number of complaints remain at almost the exact same level as the previous year. But, statewide, complaints increased 17 percent in the year and nationwide the numbers are higher.
Consumer advocate Denise Richardson, author of, “Give Me Back My Credit,” said she had her identity stolen three times and now she spends most of her time trying to help others protect themselves.
“When I look at the statistics, I’m shocked to see that 65 percent of the consumers who were victimized didn’t report it to the police,” she said from her Florida home on Friday.
Most people deal with cleaning up their credit and identity problems on their own, but not reporting it to police can result in further damage to their reputation.
“If someone commits a crime in your name, the police need to know you’ve been victimized,” she said. Richardson urged anyone who has not ordered a credit report in the last year to do so.
“It’s free and easy and it really doesn’t take very long to complete the application,” she said.
A toll free automated ordering service is available by calling 1-877-322-8228. For online orders, the address is: www.annualcreditreport.com.
Frankie Y. Bailey, an associate professor at the University at Albany’s School of Criminal Justice, said historically, the relationship between the economy and crime is complex.
“Even when the economy is bad and people are losing jobs and homes, for most people social controls are still in place,” she said. “Most people are not going to rob a bank or shoplift from a store even when times are bad. They will still consider the costs verses benefits of the act — that is, what if they got caught? However, the poor economy might mean that there are fewer security guards, police officers, etc. and there will be increasing opportunities to commit crime.”
She said the incidents would differ from city to city. Programs that help people to get through the downturn could make it less likely that those who have never committed property crimes before would turn to crime out of desperation.
“It is possible that other types of crime, such as domestic violence, might increase. As experts are pointing out, stress in families dealing with economic downturn may lead to increases in drinking behavior, drug use and other factors correlated with intimate violence,” she said.
Murphy said the number of domestic violence crimes under investigation in Saratoga County has remained level for several years.
“The number is always just about 1,000 open cases,” he said. “Some of those cases involve the same person who may be charged with multiple incidents.”
In Mechanicville, Police Chief Waldron said the number of domestic violence cases jumped to 145 last year compared to 85 the previous year. Again, some are repeat offenders.
“This 71 percent increase is significant and shows no boundaries between rich and poor or young and old,” he said.
The smallest percentage of cases were between spouses, at 15 percent. Incidents involving children and parents totalled 22 percent and cases between dating partners were the highest at 42 percent, according to police records.