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New York State: Where the Crimes Are

June 10, 2016

By Bennett Liebman
Government Lawyer in Residence
Albany Law School

One of the more familiar tropes in upstate New York revolves around the origins of crime. The notion has long been that crime is like the New York State Thruway. It starts at New York City and works its way up through the rest of New York State. It is regarded as one of New York City’s least attractive exports, as young urbanites branch out bringing crime to the hinterlands. The issue is whether this trope has any accuracy in 21st century New York State.

Measurements of Crime

The FBI measures seven types of criminal acts. There are four violent crimes: murder and non-negligent homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. There are three measured non-violent crimes: burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. Traditionally, crime rates are measured based on the incidence of crime per 100,000 inhabitants.[1] Adding the violent crime rate and non-violent crime rate provides the overall crime rate for a given area.[2] While there are numerous precautions involved in comparing crime rates,[3] the fact is that these rates are generally used to provide a snapshot of the amount of crime occurring in any given location.

From 1965-1994, the crime rate in New York State was in the top half of the states in the country.[4] From 1965-1993, New York State’s violent crime rate was either the highest or the second-highest in the nation. The property crime rate in New York State during that period was always in the top half of all states.

Yet since 1990, the  number of crimes and the rate of crime in New York State have fallen dramatically.[5] The crime rate went from 6,363.8 crime incidents per 100,000 inhabitants (in 1990?) to 2,100 in 2014. The crime rate fell by more than two-thirds. New York State, whose crime rate was the eighth highest in the nation in 1990, ranked 47th in the nation in 2014.

The crime rate has fallen significantly in the nation as well. The index crime rate in the nation in 1990 was 5,802.7. It is, as of 2014, 2,961.6, a reduction of 49%. Thus, while crime has fallen in the nation, it has fallen far faster in New York State. In 1990, the crime rate was 9.7% higher in New York State than in the rest of the nation. By 2014, the crime rate in New York State was more than 29% lower than the national average.

The New York City Experience

In 1990, the index crime rate for New York City was 9,699.1, with a violent crime rate of 2,383.6. By 2014, that rate had decreased to 2,185.4. The crime rate had decreased in New York City by 75.4%.  (Violent crime decreased by 75.5%.) In 1990, the crime rate in New York City was 52.4% higher than the state average. In 2014, it was 5.4% over the State level. The rate of property crime in New York City was 6.2% lower in New York City than the state average. New York City’s overall crime rate was 26.2% lower than the nation as a whole.

New York City v. Urban Upstate Counties

With the huge decrease in crime in New York City, the 2014 statistics show there are areas of upstate New York that have higher overall crime rates than New York City.[6] These include the following 15 counties: Albany, Broome, Chautauqua, Chemung, Erie, Fulton, Genesee, Monroe, Montgomery, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Rensselaer, Schenectady and Tompkins.

Bronx County has by far the highest violent crime rate in the State, but there are 11 upstate counties with higher crime rates than the Bronx. These are: Albany, Broome, Chautauqua, Erie, Fulton, Genesee, Monroe, Niagara, Onondaga, Rensselaer, and Schenectady.

New York County (Manhattan) has the highest crime rate of the five counties within New York City. This is certainly understandable given how many commuters work in New York County and the fact that New York County appears to be the most significant tourist destination in the country.[7] Nonetheless, there are four counties – Albany, Broome, Erie and Schenectady – that have higher crime rates than New York County.

The counties with the five highest crime rates in the state are: (1) Schenectady (3,270.9), (2) Broome (3,203.5), (3) Erie (3,076.1), (4) Albany (2,975) and (5) New York (2,908.4). Currently, the crime rate in Schenectady County is nearly 50% higher than it is in New York City.[8]

One can understand a higher crime rate for Erie County. It is right on the Canadian border. People commute to work there. It is close to the tourist area of Niagara Falls. To a certain extent, Albany serves as a commuter hub for state government workers – although the number of traditional State employees has fallen over the past quarter century.[9] But there is hardly an influx of tourists or commuters into Schenectady and Broome counties which might account for their high crime rates.

New York City v. Upstate Cities[10]

Since there are 15 upstate counties that have higher overall crime rates than New York City, it is hardly surprising that almost all of the significant upstate cities have crime rates that are considerably higher than that of New York City.[11]

Of the state’s 10 largest cities outside the metropolitan New York area,[12] nine of the ten have higher crime rates than New York City. The only significant upstate city with a lower crime rate than that of New York City is the City of Rome, the smallest of the ten largest upstate cities. Perhaps of greater significance, Rome is also the only upstate city of the ten largest cities with a lower violent crime rate than that of New York City.

Some of the upstate cities had violent crime rates that are significantly higher than that of New York City. Buffalo and Niagara Falls had violent crime rates that were more than double that of New York City.[13]

The highest overall crime rates in the upstate cities in order are: (1) Albany, (2) Niagara Falls, (3) Buffalo, (4) Binghamton, (5) Troy, (6) Syracuse, (7) Schenectady, (8) Rochester, (9) Utica, and (10) Rome.  Every city ‒ except for Rome – has a crime rate double that of New York City. Albany’s crime rate was triple that of New York City.

Again, demographic considerations might account for some of the rankings of Niagara Falls and Buffalo.[14] However, it is hard to find an outside reason for the crime rates in Albany, Binghamton and Troy.

Some Added Bright Spots

Besides the overall general improvement in crime rates, there are particular areas of the State where the crime rate is especially law. The suburban counties around New York City have low crime rates, and Putnam County – which has in recent years become more of a suburb of New York City ‒ has the lowest crime rate in the State.

The State’s rural counties also have generally low crime rates. Much of the Adirondack area also has a comparatively low crime rate. The counties of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Saratoga, Warren and Washington, which comprise much of the Adirondack Park area, have crime rates lower than the State average, which might seem surprising in light of their large number of tourists and their comparatively low number of residents.[15] Essex and Lewis have the third and fifth lowest crime rates in the State respectively.

This low crime rate seems most pronounced both in Warren and Saratoga counties. Besides their presence in the Adirondack Park, these counties have significant other tourist venues. Warren County has Lake George and a very large amusement park in The Great Escape. Saratoga has two racetracks, one racino, and a large performing arts center.[16]

Where the Crime Is

The New York State crime statistics demonstrate to us where the problems are. While violent crime is still comparatively higher in New York City than in much of the State, the primary locus of crime in New York State is now in the urban areas of upstate New York. The trope of criminal behavior making its way north and west from New York City no longer has any truth. Instead, Schenectady County is the county with the highest crime rate. Albany is the city with the highest crime rate. The nine largest cities in upstate New York now have higher overall crime rates and higher violent crime rates than New York City. Instead of crime following the State Thruway from New York City, crime is now like the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers flowing east and south from the high crime areas to New York City.

 

[1] The index crime rate — refers to the sum of these seven crimes.  The four specified violent crimes are a subset of the overall index crime rate.

[2] This paper uses data derived from the FBI’s uniform crime reports. These reports and their accompanying charts are issued by the FBI and the State Division of Criminal Justice Services. See generally https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/ and http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/stats.htm. The statistics used to demonstrate current conditions are from the 2014 calendar year. See, for example, https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/tables/table-4.

[3] See https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/ucr-statistics-their-proper-use. In addition to the factors noted, the number of non-residents generally visiting or working in an area also would affect an area’s crime rate. Thus, New York County – with numerous commuters and visitors ‒ might be expected to have a higher crime rate. Similarly, counties in New York with numerous tourists (Niagara County, the counties in the Adirondacks, and Saratoga County) might be expected to have a somewhat higher crime rate. Some urban counties in upstate New York State which have experienced a downturn in employment over the past several decades due to the departure of major private employers (Erie, Monroe, Onondaga and Schenectady) might be expected to have a lower crime rate. The same might be true of a county like Sullivan County in the Catskills which has anecdotally experienced a decrease in tourism.

[4] See generally http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/nycrime.htm.

[5] Id.

[6] http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/indexcrimes/2014-county-index-rates.pdf.

[7] See http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20150823/HOSPITALITY_TOURISM/150829979/exchange-rate-bah; https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/NYS_Tourism_Impact_2014.pdf.

[8] 49.67% higher.

[9] See Danny Hakim, “Albany’s Two Payrolls: One Is Anybody’s Guess,” New York Times, July 27, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/nyregion/28payroll.html?_r=0.

[10] Much of the information is from https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/tables/table-8/table-8-by-state/Table_8_Offenses_Known_to_Law_Enforcement_by_New_York_by_City_2014.xls.

[11] Id. This particular chart utilizes a slightly higher crime rate for New York City than that of http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/indexcrimes/2014-county-index-rates.pdf in footnote 5.

[12] This excludes the cities of Yonkers, White Plains and New Rochelle in Westchester County.

[13] The highest violent crime rate for an upstate city of decent size was the City of Newburgh in Orange County. Newburgh, with a population of 28,378, had a violent crime rate that was 142.7% higher than that of New York City.

[14] Niagara Falls has proximity to Canada, a major tourism attraction in the falls, a major casino, and a large entertainment facility in Artpark.

[15] The crime rates in Oneida County and Fulton County, which are partially located in the Adirondack Park, have crime rates higher than the state average. This can be explained partially by the presence of older urban areas in these counties south of the Adirondack Park (Utica in Oneida County, Gloversville and Johnstown in Fulton County) with high crime rates.

[16] The City of Saratoga Springs, which is where the racetracks, racino and performing arts center are located, has a crime rate slightly above the State average, but considerably less than most cities in upstate New York of its population size of 27,496.

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