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Foss: Rise in violent crime should concern us all

Foss: Rise in violent crime should concern us all

Schenectady, Albany see increases
Foss: Rise in violent crime should concern us all
Medina Knowles, 17, was shot and killed on Schenectady Street in September 2016.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

Violent crime is up, for the second straight year, and nobody knows quite what to make of it. 

Some, such as Mark Kleiman, a criminologist at New York University's Marron Institute of Urban Management, believe it is serious cause for concern.  

"This is ominous," Kleiman told The New York Times. "A 20 percent increase in homicides over the past two years is not trivial. We've got what looks like a serious problem here." 

RELATED: Property crimes down locally; violent crimes fluctuate, FBI says

Others were more cautious in responding to the FBI's just-released crime statistics, noting that violent crime is at historic lows and that the increase can be attributed to specific cities, such as Detroit and Chicago. 

"It's easy to spin the FBI's numbers in ways that strike fear into the public," writes Arthur Rizer, a former federal prosecutor, on the political website The Hill. "Yet the reality is, the country is not being overrun by violent thugs coming to hurt us and we don't need to prepare a mob with pitchforks to save ourselves." 

I don't know that we need to grab our pitchforks, either — hysteria doesn't solve problems and quite often makes them worse. 

But an increase in violent crime is always cause for concern, because it means more people are being assaulted, murdered, raped and robbed. 

For the victims, their families and the communities in which they live, violent crime takes a real toll. We shouldn't dismiss it, or downplay it.   

Nationally, violent crime rose 4.1 percent in 2016. 

In Schenectady, it increased almost 3.5 percent between 2014 and 2016 and in Albany it increased 6.9 percent between 2015 and 2016. 

In Troy, violent crime actually dropped 15 percent between 2015 and 2016 — a decline that's as puzzling as it is welcome. A closer look at the data suggests that Troy actually experienced an unusual surge in violent crime between 2014 and 2015, and that 2014 and 2016 were both much calmer years. 

What any of this means long term remains to be seen. 

We don't want to overreact to a one- or two-year jump in violent crime, but we don't want to under-react to it, either. 

A 3.5 percent increase in violent crime might sound modest, even insignificant, but it's causing real harm — harm you can read about every day in the newspaper, where reports of violent incidents are disturbingly common.

There's no question that violent crime is up, and that Schenectady, Albany and other New York communities are part of a troubling trend.  

What's unclear is what's causing this troubling trend. 

For the most part, criminologists seem baffled by it, unsure of whether we're witnessing the start of a national crime wave or a temporary blip.

I'm hoping it's the latter — that next year's FBI crime statistics tell a different story. 

In the meantime, the rise in violent crime should concern us all, and while there's no need to respond with hysteria, or by grabbing our pitchforks, we should push our elected officials to address this growing violence, before it worsens and causes even more harm to our communities. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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