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Schenectady residents unsure of safety in numbers

Schenectady residents unsure of safety in numbers

Schenectady Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said last week his department has been using new strategies
Schenectady residents unsure of safety in numbers
Joe Riitano, owner of New Mount Pleasant Bakery on Crane Street in Schenectady, is frustrated by the lack of police response after his bakery was robbed in October.
Photographer: Stacey Lauren-Kennedy

By the numbers

Reported violent and property crimes for Capital Region cities from 2009-13 (violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Property crimes include burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft)

Year; Violent crimes; Property crimes

Albany (estimated 2013 population 98,424)

2009; 1,004; 4,251

2010; 983; 4,650

2011; 940; 4,617

2012; 800; 4,328

2013; 795; 4,904

Schenectady (65,902)

2009; 592; 3,336

2010; 679; 3,387

2011; 636; 3,098

2012; 624; 2,831

2013; 608; 2,800

Troy (49,974)

2009; 349; 2,340

2010; 423; 2,352

2011; 371; 2,318

2012; 334; 2,380

2013; 371; 1,985

Saratoga Springs (27,315)

2009; 22; 579

2010; 31; 599

2011; 20; 608

2012; 26; 698

2013; 33; 642

Amsterdam (18,206)

2009; 95; 167

2010; 45; 566

2011; 28; 535

2012; 18; 432

2013; 30; 405

Gloversville (15,315)

2009; 71; 599

2010; 82; 636

2011; 37; 648

2012; 42; 684

2013; 33; 686

Johnstown (8,479)

2009; 7; 225

2010; 14; 301

2011; 8; 330

2012; 6; 302

2013; 14; 316

Sources: New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, U.S. Census Bureau

New Mont Pleasant Bakery owner Joe Riitano said he thinks crime is on the rise in Schenectady and more should be done to fight it.

Businesses in his area are having trouble as a result, he said.

“We have to lock everything. We have to watch everything, everything you do,” Riitano said. “I know the police, they mean well and they do the best that they can.”

Riitano knows the impact of crime firsthand. Late last month, he and his employees were robbed at gunpoint and his office ransacked. No one was hurt.

With that terrifying incident, Riitano and his employees became some of the latest victims of violence in Schenectady. Statistics filed with the state, though, indicate the city has seen a reduction in violent crime in recent years, as well as notable reductions in property crime.

Schenectady Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said last week his department has been using new strategies to keep those numbers going down, and they are seeing results.

“The numbers are certainly moving in the right direction,” Kilcullen said. “We attribute that to smarter policing.”

Perceptions of crime on the street, though, are different, and statistics offer little solace to those who have had guns pointed at them.

Interviews with Schenectady neighborhood leaders last week showed varying perceptions of crime in the city. Some saw it as up, others down.

“We’re not going to change perceptions overnight,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said. “It’s an ongoing, multi-year campaign to do this. I’m pleased with the results we have, though I’d like them to be better and the chief would like them to be better.”

The key, he said, is to build on the documented success of recent years. An improved public perception of crime and safety in the city will follow. In the meantime, the city continues to build on police work with efforts by the city’s law and code enforcement departments to improve quality of life, he said.

State numbers show that violent crime in Schenectady — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — has been dropping steadily. There was a five-year high of 679 violent crimes in Schenectady in 2010. That number has dropped each year since. In 2013, there were 608. This year’s numbers are on track to be even lower.

The number of property crimes — burglary, larceny and motor vehicle thefts — also has been trending down, the data show. There were 2,800 in 2013, compared to 3,387 in 2010 — a 17 percent drop. The 2014 numbers are also on track to be lower than 2013.

Helping fuel the recent drop, Kilcullen said, is a relatively new system to integrate crime locations and traffic crash data to help determine where to send officers and other resources. Last year marked the first full year under that system. “We’ve always collected a lot of data, but we’re really doing a better job of analyzing it,” Kilcullen said.

Schenectady’s numbers aren’t unique in the region; Albany and Troy also have seen crime numbers drop.

In Albany, violent crime was down each year from 2009 to 2013. Property crimes have followed the same general pattern, though the five-year high came in 2010.

In Troy, violent crimes have fluctuated a bit, with the high in 2010. Even with a spike in murders in 2014, Troy was still just about even in overall violent crime in the first eight months of 2014, as compared to 2013.

All three cities are included in the state’s Gun Involved Violence Elimination initiative, the successor to Operation IMPACT. The program provides expertise and funding to reduce gun-related violent crime.

Still, the public perception about crime often differs from what the numbers say. Some are reinforced by Internet lists that rank cities in the state or country by crime, despite a caution from the FBI, the source of those stats, that straight numeric comparisons are impossible because of the uniqueness of each locale.

Schenectady has ended up on two such Internet lists this year, with Gloversville on one. Kilcullen and McCarthy discounted the lists, citing the FBI caution and the declining crime numbers.

Gloversville Police Chief Donald Van Deusen said he was made aware last month that Gloversville was on an Internet list as a high-crime city. The numbers don’t support that, he said.

“As far as violent crime goes here, I don’t think we’re any better or any worse than any place else in a city this size,” Van Deusen said.

Gloversville’s five-year high for violent crime came in 2010, with 82 reports. In 2013, that number was down to 33. Through August 2014, it was trending even lower.

Property crimes are up, though. The five-year high was last year, with 686, and 2014 has been a little higher. Van Deusen attributes that to new retail stores opening in the city, especially a new Wal-Mart, providing more opportunities for such crime.

In Schenectady, Marva Issac, head of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, said she hasn’t seen any effect from a lower crime rate. She’d like the city to focus on lower-level offenses, like loitering in front of corner stores.

“I have to credit Chief Kilcullen for what he’s doing,” Issac said. “He’s doing a wonderful job.”

Hamilton Hill resident Fred Lee had a different perspective. He wondered if the drop in crime numbers reflected a drop in reporting. Lee is president of the New Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association and the citywide Neighborhood Watch program.

“I think many residents have decided to do one of two things: Either they don’t call it in or they elect to move,” Lee said. “I think it’s time for a really hard look at this.”

He said interactions with police or dispatchers can leave residents frustrated and less likely to call in the future. “What we witness on the street is somewhat different from that,” Lee said of the crime numbers. “They’re just not calling them in, or people are afraid.”

The newest residents, Lee said, are afraid of retribution, “so they just silently suffer and don’t bother to call.”

Kilcullen said he doesn’t believe that’s true for violent crime and property crime numbers. The crimes included, he said, are serious enough that residents would call police regardless.

Fred Clark said he sees the lower numbers in the neighborhoods. He lives in Mont Pleasant and has lived in Hamilton Hill. He is also the president of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

He pointed to the incidence of gun-related crimes, which seemed to him to be down.

“I haven’t been hearing about a whole lot of shootings,” Clark said. “They’ve definitely got to be down, which is a good thing.”

The numbers support that, as well. Firearm-related crimes in Schenectady numbered 108 in 2013 — down nearly 16 percent over the five-year average. The 2014 numbers were just above even with 2013 in the first eight months.

“I think people in the neighborhood can see that there hasn’t been as much violent crime as there has been in the past,” Clark said. “I think it’s a combination of police work and community watchdogs.”

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