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Crime Scene TapeMany people don’t want to believe this, but the City of Rochester is generally safer than it’s been in decades. That’s true if you look at the number of violent crimes and the rate of violent crimes.

Crime has been declining for many years in Rochester, echoing a trend in cities across the country.

No one knows why this is happening. Criminologists have a wide range of theories, from the legalization of abortion, mass incarceration, reduction of lead paint, aging population, more police on the streets, reduction in crack use, increased use of psychiatric medications and technology keeping people inside. But there’s evidence to support and refute all of these theories.

But politicians don’t hesitate to take credit for the drop in crime. On Thursday, Mayor Lovely Warren said in her State of the City Address:

Our efforts at creating safer neighborhoods can best be seen by looking at the numbers, and the numbers I am referring to are the most recent crime stats, which I am unveiling here, tonight.

And the facts speak for themselves:

We have the lowest Violent Crime levels in 10 years and the 2nd lowest in 25 years.

  • Part 1 Crime (which is how the FBI labels major crimes) is at its lowest level in 25 years.
  • We have fewer than 11,000 Part 1 Crimes for the first time in 25 years.
  • There has not been a single year from 1985 to 2012 when Part 1 numbers dropped below 12,000 and we are actually below 11,000.
  • Robbery and Aggravated Assault are at 25-year lows, with robbery down over 20% from 2013.
  • Property Crime — Burglary and Larceny — are all at their lowest rates in 25 years.

I am proud of these numbers. Aren’t all of you proud of these numbers too?

We deserve to be proud of these numbers. We deserve to take heart that crime and violence have been significantly reduced in our city.

The mayor is 100 percent right that we should be happy crime has declined, even if public perception hasn’t caught up to reality. The mayor is 100 percent right to promote these statistics.

But it’s truly difficult to say if Warren’s administration had anything to do with this drop, which started well before she came into office. Let’s just hope the trend continues.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Cuomo is investigating ways to put schools into receivership. Local control would go away.

– I never understood why Del Smith was considered such a rock star. He had a very thin business resume and no government experience before heading up the city’s economic development efforts. It now appears he wasn’t committed to doing the hard work required to revitalize the city and wants to return to the world of academia. This was one out-of-the-box hire that was a big bust.

– I love every single line of this piece: “When did Americans decide that allowing our kids to be out of sight was a crime?”

– A Xerox researcher thinks car ownership will decline dramatically in 10 years, though some think self-driving cars will put more cars on the road.

National school superintendent searches are unnecessary.

Museums feel the need to ban selfie sticks.

 

Video of the Day:

 

Crime Scene TapeRochester has a particularly violent month. Eight people have been killed since August 3. Homicides are shocking and devastating and the most high profile measurement of crime in a community.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to look at historical trends in violent crime to put recent violence in perspective. Here is data from the FBI. The first chart is the number of violent crimes. Note the worst years for homicide came in the early ’90s. The best year was 1999. (So far in 2013, 27 people have been killed. In 2012, 36 people were killed.)

 

murdernumber

 

 

This chart looks at the the number of crimes per capita – the violent crime rate:

 

murder rate

 

The data will mean different things to different people. Some will say it’s proof the city is a violent place. Others will say crime no worse today than it was 20 years ago – in fact it’s better.

 

Links of the Day:

– The NSA gets around encryption on websites many of us thought were secure. This is unbelievable.

“The U.S. government has betrayed the Internet.”

– Cuomo wants to get tough on failing schools, but never mentions deconcentrating poverty in schools.

Albany motels house the working poor.

– I interviewed a University of Rochester astrophysicist about why people like to deny science.

The day she was arraigned in Penfield.

The day she was arraigned in Penfield.

When Megan Merkel was arraigned in Penfield Town Court last summer, she sobbed to the judge she had no one to bail her out. The bail was only $25,000 cash or $50,000 bond, an amount not out of reach for most property owners. She had no one in her life to help.

During that short hearing, it was revealed she didn’t have custody of her two children and had previous convictions for minor thefts.

I remember feeling sorry for this 23-year-old woman who’d made some very bad choices. Her young life was a train wreck and was about to get a lot worse.

After spending 10 months in jail, Merkel was found guilty of driving drunk, but acquitted of vehicular manslaughter. The district attorney took a big gamble with the manslaughter charge. Police said from the start Merkel’s friend threw Heather Boyum into the path of the car Merkel was driving. The jury’s decision was incredibly easy to predict.

Merkel has since given a public apology.

In a discussion on my Facebook page about Merkel and forgiveness, someone wrote:

“I absolutely don’t accept her apology and I never will. There is not one courageous bone in her body. This is self serving so she could actually leave her house in this community. She’s the most hated person in all of Rochester, NY. Rot in hell, Merkel.”

In many online discussions, Merkel and her co-defendant have been referred to “white trash.”

I don’t find it so hard to have compassion for Merkel. I don’t find it so hard to want her to lead a good life. I don’t find it hard to accept her public apology.

If we don’t forgive her, who can we forgive? Several thousand people in our community are convicted every year of drinking and driving. If we don’t forgive their mistakes, for which they pay a hefty price, an awful lot of people would be friendless and jobless. Whether you know it or not, these are your family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Forgiveness is not the same as condoning the behavior.

Some asked if I would have so much compassion if Boyum was my teacher, sister, friend or mother. I’ve covered many trials and spoken to many heartbroken families. I think there is no real remedy when bad things happen to good people. What’s done is done. All we can hope is that the truth comes out and the system delivers an appropriate penalty. Nothing, however, can reverse a tragedy. We only have power over how we choose to grieve and move forward.

Even though reasonable people think otherwise, a jury found Merkel wasn’t responsible for Boyum’s death. She still faces sentencing for the driving infractions. But she has and will face a penalty for being “the most hated person in Rochester.”

As a community, we can do better.

Sibley 220X165A divided City Council approved a lease for a police substation inside the Sibley Building. The 10-year lease will cost nearly $1 million. The city will also spend about $200,000 furnishing the space. Forty officers – not a small number – will staff the station.

Less than 10 years ago, downtown had a police station. It was shuttered when the department, led by former Police Chief Bob Duffy, reorganized into east and west sections. I don’t know what the department was paying for its old substation lease, but I’m guessing the one in the Sibley Building is more money. Certainly acquiring the furniture is an added cost.

The Sibley substation is a recognition downtown has its own policing needs. It’s a unique mix of visitors, commuters, transit riders, entertainment, residents, businesses and government. Even though downtown is among the safest places in the city, it’s important for people to feel safe, as it’s the center of the city. It’s the symbol of Rochester.

The Sibley substation is also the beginning of the recognition the two-section policing model hasn’t worked out. The chief has said he wants to move toward a quadrant system, with a downtown section in the middle. It won’t be cheap, as the Sibley lease shows.

Links of the Day:

– Avon is now the third New York State town to have its fracking ban upheld in court.

– A retired Pittsford teacher urges parents to opt out of state tests.

– A man jailed 22 years in a New York City rabbi’s killing is about to be freed. His conviction was the result  of liars and shoddy police work.

– Does phasing in the minimum wage really help workers? The Albany Times Union writes, “A deal among state leaders would force workers to wait until 2016 for a wage that isn’t particularly adequate in 2013.”

– With no assault weapons ban on the horizon, what does the president say to Newtown families now?

The St. Paul Quarter is filled with old factories-turned loft apartments. The area is a great example of downtown resurgence.

But a video taken from a loft window of late-night chaos is alarming. It showed a shooting, numerous fights, a man kicking a cop car and general disorder. The incidents took place in full view of  police, who were staged a block away.

<Watch and read 13WHAM’s story on the video.>

Many people say the video only shows what’s gone on for years. If that’s true, it’s time to stop it before someone gets killed. What’s more, residents and visitors should not be subjected to this nonsense.

James SheppardPolice Chief James Sheppard did not indicate if he will increase staffing or deploy a different strategy. He said the video didn’t shock him. That means he knew it was going on. Perhaps the department is struggling to figure out a way to handle it. Officers clearly did not have control of the area on the night the video was taken.

Rochester has several bar districts – East End, St. Paul and Monroe Ave. These districts attract people from around the county and are important to the city’s nightlife. Maybe it’s time for highly coordinated bar details. Maybe special taxing districts need to be created to pay for the details.

Whatever the case, it’s time for a plan.

Links of the Day:

– Chicago has very strict gun laws, but a huge rate of gun violence. The New York Times did an important story on why touch city laws don’t work.

– Local DEC officials used to be able to answer callers’ questions. Now everything has to go through an Albany PR department.

– Kindergartners doing algebra? The new Common Core standards are leaving kids – and their teachers – in tears.

– San Francisco plans to spend $200 million on its bike network, with the goal of 20 percent of all trips made by bike.

Albany has a redhead league!

Crime Graph

 

 

The Rochester Police Department chart above shows the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents going back to 1985. These include murder, rape, robbery and assault.

The early 1990s were the high point for violence. This was true across the country. Scholars have attributed lower crime since then to crack’s decline, more young men in prison, more police on the streets, legalized abortion and even less lead paint.

There’s no question Rochester continues to have issues with crime, particularly in certain neighborhoods. But it’s not worse than ever, thus the chart’s title “Perception v. Reality.”

Correction: Part I crimes also included burglary, larceny, arson and car thefts. This doesn’t change the premise that the community is safer.

Links of the Day:

– The state wants to make it much harder to plea down speeding ticketsand you’d still have to pay.

Scotch & Sirloin has closed.

– This is so cute. Little libraries are popping up in Buffalo.

This is what a lake effect storm looks like.

– If cities had fewer cars, would more money stay in the local economy?

 

Crime Scene TapeA woman was shot inside Gitsis Restaurant on Monroe Ave. at 3 a.m. Sunday. Police have released few details about what led to the incident, but I suspect there will be much discussion about safety along the strip. There have been several shootings inside and outside establishments in the area over the last decade.

(Watch: 13WHAM obtained cell phone video taken inside the restaurant right after the shooting.)

Although there is a police presence on Monroe Ave., it doesn’t seem to compare to the highly-coordinated police strategy in the Upper East End. That may be the result of the fact East End bars are concentrated, while Monroe Ave. is more spread out. But lack of officers didn’t prevent the Gitsis shooting; witnesses said an officer was inside the restaurant when it happened.

The city’s response to the shooting will be interesting. Will City Hall heap nuisance points on Gitsis, which could lead to a shutdown? That was the response to the fatal shooting that took place outside the Bug Jar. The city ended up working with the owners to put in place a security plan.

City Hall has never really embraced Monroe Ave. as an entertainment district, even though it’s lined with bars and eateries. I’m not sure what could be done to prevent these sporadic incidents of violence other than closing down late-night eateries. Has it gotten to that level?

Update: The shooting appears to be accidental. Security approached police to report a customer with a gun and when police approached the man, he took it out and it fired. The police chief said there’s no reason to go after Gitsis for this incident.

Links of the Day:

– Rural Onondaga County towns oppose the county executive’s plan to limit sprawl.

Bausch + Lomb’s sale could be bad for Rochester.

– The Greece school district teacher absentee rate is 8 percent. That includes long term illness, maternity leave and professional development.

– Niagara Falls police officer say tenants spend their welfare rent checks on other things.

– Louise Slaughter was never a politician in the Buffalo mold. It didn’t matter.

– A study says the Adirondacks could support a cougar comeback.

Television news covers its fair share of crime. I think we cover crime too often and I think we tend to cover the same kinds of crimes. Often, it seems child molesters, drunk drivers and “bad moms”  get disproportionate coverage.

Today, I covered crime. I interviewed two victims of two separate crimes. They’re innocent people whose lives are not the same because of the decisions of a stranger. They’re people we don’t often hear about. What happened to them was serious, but these victims rarely tell their stories on television news. Sometimes, we don’t ask.

The first crime victim I interviewed was Sherry Argro. She almost died one year ago this week when she was struck by a drunk, texting driver who left the scene. Sherry had a broken leg and pelvis, a cracked diaphragm, ruptured spleen and a collapsed lung. She had seven surgeries. Sherry celebrated her 40th birthday on Tuesday. Amazingly, she has kind words for the young driver who took away her ability to work and walk normally:

“I just hope she gets the help that she needs and the counseling that she needs,” Argro said. “Hopefully she can get her life back together, as well as me trying to get mine back together.”

The second crime victim I interviewed was Dave Cooper. He walked or biked to his job at RTS every day for 15 years. Last month, he was beaten and robbed. His face and nose and fingers were fractured. When a passerby found him, Cooper asked to be taken to work before the hospital because he didn’t want his bosses to think he didn’t show up. Cooper is mostly recovered, but he’s not the same:

“It bothers me because I enjoy walking,” he said. “I don’t feel like I can walk, feel safe walking anymore after dark.”

Life isn’t fair, is it?

Argro and Cooper didn’t deserve what happened to them. But thank goodness, they’re alive. And they got to tell their stories.

Links of the Day:

A Buffalo pastor forgave his son’s killer.

– Jean-Claude Brizard says his Chicago communications director undermined him. Great read.

– An Onondaga County village stopped adding fluoride to the water. Pipes are more important than teeth, apparently.

– Rochester is shorted on road funding. Why does this not surprise me?

– “After an hour in the cold, I can report that Paula Broadwell eats food and wears sweaters.” Some reporter stakeouts are so dumb.

– Explore a cave in Lower Falls.

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The Syracuse Post-Standard ran a picture online of a woman being arrested for throwing hot grease on firefighters. The story said Fatima Darby was “emotionally disturbed” and she was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.

The picture made me uncomfortable and I felt sorry for the woman.

On the one hand, the incident happened and the media reports on what happened. It put firefighters, the woman and her baby at great risk. On the other hand, I couldn’t shake the feeling the picture was exploitative – that I was watching something I had no business watching.

Nestor Ramos of the Democrat and Chronicle recently described similar feelings about the notorious “Foot Licker.” (Link is now dead on D&C site.) The man charged with fondling little girls’ feet ranted incoherently during perp walks shown on TV news. Ramos found all of the snickering about the case disturbing.

Last week, a man leading police on a car chase killed himself live on Fox News Channel.

There have been a great deal of media reports linking teen suicides to bullying. The issue has been dramatically oversimplified. The media has normalized children taking their lives because they were bullied and that could prompt copycats. Medical professionals say teenage suicide is uncommon and there are many factors.

The behavior of mentally ill people makes for sensational pictures and headlines. But do we need to show a little more sensitivity, even to criminals, if an incident involves someone obviously having a breakdown?

Much has been written about the media’s treatment of mental illness. Studies have found most portrayals of mentally ill people involve criminality or dangerous situations. But the vast majority of mentally ill people are not dangerous and can be treated.

It’s something to remember the next time you see a picture of police wrestling an “emotionally disturbed” mother to the ground. What you didn’t see was her being loaded onto a stretcher and taken to a hospital.

Links of the Day:

– Governor Cuomo has a lot riding on the Bills stadium lease. If the Bills skip town or if the state shells out too much money to get them to stay, he’ll be blamed.

– An op-ed implores the state to “fix the Erie Canal” to allow more overnight stays.

– The East Irondequoit School District was shocked to discover Medley Centre was given more time to transform the mall and not pay financial penalties.

– Rochester has the Inner Loop. Syracuse has I-81. Buffalo has the Skyway. Take ’em down.

Public markets across the country have been revived.

If you get caught driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, you’ve got a big problem. Under the law, you’re drunk. If you refuse to blow into the breathalyzer, your license is automatically suspended and you’ll be charged. You might be able to beat a DWI at trial, but you will pay a pretty penny.

If you smoke weed, the law is much murkier. It’s illegal to drive while your ability is impaired by drugs. But how do you know someone is “high?” You can do a blood test for THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, but how much is too much?

The issue of marijuana impairment was front and center at a the vehicular manslaughter trial of John Ariano, accused of running a stop sign and killing Jack Blair. From my report on 13WHAM News:

Judge Frank Geraci, who presided over Ariano’s bench trial, found him not guilty of all charges. Geraci said there was not enough evidence the drugs in Ariano’s system caused him to be impaired and led to the crash. None of the deputies and other witnesses noted he was impaired. Ariano had been driving well under the speed limit and a driver who followed him for 7 miles didn’t notice any erratic driving.

“There was no impairment,” said Christopher Schiano, Ariano’s attorney. “It was not a popular verdict, but it was the right one.”

Schiano said his entire case was built around the fact New York State doesn’t have a threshold for how much marijuana a driver can have in his system. He said this was a rare vehicular manslaughter case because it didn’t involve any alcohol use.

Prosecutors alleged Ariano had 5.4 nanograms of THC in his blood. Colorado lawmakers recently defeated a bill that would have made 5 nanograms the driving threshold. The Denver Post reported:

At the earlier committee hearing, medical-marijuana activists argue that the proposed limit — 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood — is too low and would result in near-certain convictions for sober drivers.

The bill’s opponents argued that medical-marijuana patients have no way of determining what 5 nanograms means. How much can they consume? How long do they have to wait afterward?

(snip)
Supporters of the bill counter that the vast majority of people would be impaired at 5 nanograms and would need to wait only about two to three hours after using to fall below the limit. They argue that, even though some people could be sober at 5 nanograms, it is important to send a strong message.

Michigan prohibits any amount of marijuana in a driver’s blood.

While it’s widely accepted that alcohol impedes one’s ability to drive, the jury is out when it comes to marijuana. A Bloomberg columnist who is opposed to a marijuana threshold reports:

…when drivers are under the influence of THC; they tend to have heightened awareness — rather than diminished sensitivity as they do after drinking — to their surroundings. As a result, they tend to compensate by driving more cautiously.

A 2007 control study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health reviewed 10 years of U.S. auto-fatality data. Investigators found that U.S. drivers with blood-alcohol levels of 0.05 percent — a level below the national 0.08 percent legal limit — were three times as likely to have been driving unsafely before a fatal crash, compared with individuals who tested positive for marijuana.

We will likely see more drugged driving cases. Rochester defense attorney Ed Fiandach said police are stepping up enforcement and getting more training. Much of the focus has been on drivers high on prescription drugs, but the Ariano trial shows marijuana users can also get nabbed.

It’s clear more research is needed on the impact of marijuana and other drugs on driving.

“You can see how the world is like changing, people killing over sneakers.” – Cousin of shooting victim Montre Bradley

Montre Bradley wasn’t killed for his sneakers, but he might as well have been. Two thugs who learned people were waiting in line to buy $220 Nike Foamposites robbed the customers of cash and other items. Someone, perhaps Bradley, struggled, shots were fired and Bradley was killed.

The heinous crime joins the list of senseless sneaker-related violent incidents across the country.

So called “sneaker riots” have broken out when new models are released. Sneaker frenzies are nothing new, but social media and the ability to sell limited editions at huge markups on eBay are adding fuel to the fire. Things got so bad, Nike recently gave retailers instructions on how to avoid problems, including not opening at midnight and creating online reservations via Twitter.

Nike has gotten a tremendous amount of criticism over sneaker-related violence. The Urban League has asked Nike to hold off on selling $315 LeBron shoes. Columnists across the country are decrying sneaker materialism. One columnist likened Nike to a drug dealer:

…what the billion dollar shoe company hustles isn’t drugs or even sneakers. It trades in cool.

(snip)

…trading in cool comes at a cost. The price is the financial well being of those who line Nike’s soles and those who keep Nike paid and those who are willing to rob and steal just to be the king. The economy continues to fall apart, unemployment rates are through the roof and Nike knows that the kids are strung out. So they just keep mass marketing high-priced cool to those who can’t afford it.

(snip)

For years now, sneaker fiends have been getting beaten and robbed for their coveted dope. Recently the release of the Nike Foamposite Galaxy’s caused riots from Florida to Maryland. Sneakerheads were rumbling to get their hands on the newest fix, but does Nike increase supply? Nope. Do they drop the prices to make the shoes more accessible? Nope.

In fact, Nike tells the stores to keep their corner in check and beef up security to make sure they keep things civil.

Nike just keeps plugging away, earning more money. One blogger compared the $315 LeBron shoes to $625 Christian Louboutin heels, but concedes Louboutins aren’t “marketed to the average youth.”

We all spend money on things we don’t need and can’t afford. We all spend money on things that serve no other purpose than to make us feel good. Expensive sneaker-buying gets criticized because of Nike’s perceived exploitation of urban youth. The Atlantic Wire wrote:

…we step onto rubber soles and become Michael Jordan, or Joey Ramone. But there’s a difference between the two — and even today, it’s the difference between a harmless lace-up and a paycheck-obliterating, riot-causing fetish object.

Once again, it all comes down to who companies are marketing to — and how they choose to treat the consumer.

Bradley’s killers saw an opportunity to prey on innocent people. How did these criminals know the customers had so much cash? Ask Nike.

Links of the Day:

– Jean-Claude Brizard is getting blamed for a possible teacher strike in Chicago and could be out of a job. He’s mainly faulted for his communication skills, something that dogged him in Rochester. He either really messed up or is being set up as the fall guy.

All RCSD students will get a free lunch this school year.

– Is the Inn on Broadway in trouble? It owes $140,000 in back taxes.

The majority of new jobs pay low wages.

Black on black crime is an “epidemic” that doesn’t get enough attention, according to an important report in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall):

Their deaths are overshadowed by tragedies like the massacres at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater and the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, as well as the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. The latter case prompted nationwide outcry in part because of its racial aspect: Mr. Martin’s killer is white and Hispanic, and Mr. Martin was black.

(snip)

The Wall Street Journal found that the number of black male victims increased more than 10%, to 5,942 in 2010 from 5,307 in 2000.

Overall, more than half the nation’s homicide victims are African-American, though blacks make up only 13% of the population. Of those black murder victims, 85% were men, mostly young men.

(snip)

People who dismiss high homicide rates in poor, mostly black neighborhoods as someone else’s problem ignore the cost to society, from police efforts to social services for victims’ families, said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank that conducts research on criminal justice initiatives. His group calculated the national cost for gun homicides alone in 2010 was more than $43 billion. That encompasses victim costs like lost productivity and medical care, as well as costs for police, prosecution, courts and prison. It also includes costs to the offender’s family.

A 2009 study by Iowa State analyzing other data estimated that a single murder runs up more than $17 million in costs to the police, courts, prisons, social services and to the families of victims and suspects.

This is not surprising in Rochester, where most homicide victims and suspects are far more likely to be young black men. The Wall Street Journal report found that programs providing employment and regular contact with clergy and police were effective. I was a disappointed the story didn’t address the impact of the illegal drug trade, which is directly and indirectly responsible for violence and street culture.

Rochester’s police chief recently recorded a video, which is similar to an op-ed he wrote, about black-on-black crime:

Links of the Day:

– Could Apple and Google be holding the price down on Kodak’s patents?

Craft beers can help local economies. 

– Generation Y can be extremely annoying in the workplace. Maybe that’s a good thing.

– A lost Albany cockatiel found its way home after landing on a state trooper’s head.

– New York state’s new concussion law doesn’t apply to little leagues.

– The best story of the day is about Senator Chuck Schumer’s matchmaking skills among his staff. 

The MetroTrends blog has a post about top crime myths. Here are some:

  • Myth: crime is getting worse, if not in your neighborhood then certainly in the “bad parts” of town, which are much more dangerous than when you were a kid. Fact: if you are under 40, on average you are safer now than you have ever been.
  • Myth: suburbs are safer than cities. Fact: true, on average, but the trend is better for cities than suburbs. At the peak of the crime wave in 1991 there were 138 homicides in Prince George’s County and 479 in Washington, DC. Last year, there were 82 homicides in PG (down 40%) and 132 in DC (down almost 75%).
  • Myth: there is an epidemic of children being kidnapped from their homes in the dead of night. Fact: the FBI estimates that in 2008 a total of 155 children were kidnapped by strangers, thus a child is about 5 times more likely to drown than be kidnapped.

The media and government have a lot to do with distorted perceptions of crime. Crime gets ratings and readers for media outlets. It’s self-serving for law enforcement agencies to make the world seem like a scarier place.

Case in point: A Homeland Security video on what to do if you’re caught in a mass shooting. Remember than less than 1 percent of all homicides involve five or more victims!

Links of the Day:

– Downtown Albany bars and restaurants fret about the perception of crime.

– Destiny USA is a destination for Canadians.

– Initial bids for Kodak’s patents came in very low. Kodak needs to raise cash to get out of bankruptcy.

– Common sense prevails. A doctor’s note for sunscreen is no longer needed in schools.

– The New York Times has an excellent graphic of Jenn Suhr’s winning pole vault at the Olympics. 

The City of Rochester produced a video about Operation Cool Down, calling it a “softer gentler way” of policing.

It shows a police officer handing out posters to businesses that say “Take Back Your City.” The video talks about the need for better police-community relationships. Cool Down was prompted after an 82 percent rise in shootings this year.

In the video, Chief Jim Sheppard said this is not a “Zero Tolerance” initiative, when the city saturated neighborhoods with officers, prompting complaints citizens were hassled over minor offenses. But that runs contrary to what the chief told reporters the day he launched Cool Down.

Although the Cool Down video is clearly labeled a City Hall production, it was produced like a news story. There’s no danger of a local news station airing this report, as happened with a federal video news release scandal. But the practice makes me a little uncomfortable. Should our tax dollars be paying the city to produce news-like videos or should this be seen a mere press release?

After covering this initiative, I still cannot define the Cool Down program. It appears to be what should be regular policing. After the watching the video, it also looks like a big heap of public relations.

Links of the Day:

Apple and Google are lining up to bid on Kodak’s patents. Bids are due on Monday.

A Democrat and Chronicle columnist was prepared to do a sweet story on a whimsical yard filled with merry-go-round-horses and birdhouses. Instead she found neighbors calling it a “hot mess.”

– Carl Paladino and the Buffalo Sabres have each submitted proposals for downtown waterfront redevelopment. Buffalo is so much farther along than Rochester in making the most of its canal and lakefront.

– A $500 million dollar hotel development is planned in Niagara Falls…Canada.

Rochester’s police chief penned an editorial in the Democrat and Chronicle asking the community to “own” the violence problem. James Sheppard questioned why 2,000 Rochesterians marched for Trayvon Martin, but a similar sense of outrage is not on display with black on black crime:

…our greatest challenge is that some people in this city see law enforcement as the only ones who “own” the violence problem.

(snip)

The majority of our homicide victims are young black men, shot to death in black neighborhoods.

(snip)

When homicides involve black-on-black violence, it seems no one cares enough to get involved, except the family members and the police.

(snip)

…2,000 people marched in downtown Rochester to protest (Trayvon Martin’s) death. While in our city numerous young black males are shot without a peep of concern or indignation

Public safety is not a spectator sport…

The Buffalo News recently did a great article on the terrible toll of the “don’t snitch” mentality. Some people genuinely distrust police and are so steeped in street culture, they won’t tell police what they know about homicides. But other people are reasonably scared of retribution.

I’m not so sure it’s fair to indict an entire community for a perceived lack of outrage. Plenty of people are angry and we’ve seen countless marches and rallies for peace. People want their corners cleared of drug dealers and troublemakers. But there’s no easy fix to the problems of guns, drugs and poverty that breeds violence.

Links of the Day:

– Onondaga County has the highest rate in the state of babies born addicted to painkillers. It’s more than double Monroe County’s rate.

Mitt Romney is a hot topic at the Hill Cumorah pageant.

– After the deadly Colgan Air crash outside Buffalo a few years ago, regional low-cost airline Pinnacle came under heavy fire. Now there are even cheaper airlines putting Pinnacle out of business. Those airlines raise similar safety issues.

– “Let them eat concession-stand pizza.” A Buffalo News columnist eviscerates the Bills for their blackout decision.

– The fate of the Western New York Flash is still uncertain. Professional women’s soccer will likely continue to struggle, even if the U.S. women win the gold in London.

As city crime is again dominating headlines, it’s worth looking at violent crime data over time.

The number of people who have survived shootings in Rochester in 2012 – 95 – is nearly double the number of people who were shot this time last year. At 21 homicides, we are also ahead of last year’s pace.

But historically speaking, we are not in the city’s most violent era. Nor are we in the safest. Late last year, I blogged at 13WHAM News about FBI crime data:

The years 1991, 1993 and 1994 all saw more than 60 homicides.

Overall, the data shows violent crime ebbing and flowing the past three decades. From 1985 to 1995, we had more than 1,000 violent crimes per 100,000 residents every year except one. The following 10 years saw violent crime drop, with the period between 1999 and 2002 being the least violent since 1985.

Homicides crept up again in 2003, prompting the New York Times to write about our per capita murder rate. The year 2006 had the worst violent crime rate since 1985, including homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults. That year we had 49 homicides.

This is a a look at the violent crime rate from 1985 to 2011.

The data shows violent crime is not the worst it’s ever been. However, when the police chief says Rochester is the safest it’s been in decades, that’s not entirely true. He points to sheer numbers, not the crime rate. The safest era in the city over the last 25 years was the early 2000s.

On a somewhat related note, I found this blog post by Empire State Future about the dangers of living in the city versus the suburbs. The risk of dying in a traffic accident is greater in rural and suburban areas.

The Trayvon Martin case reminds me of Roderick Scott. In both cases, a man claiming to be protecting his neighborhood notifies police about an unarmed 17-year-old boy he thinks is causing trouble and minutes later shoots him dead, sparking debate about guns and self-defense.

Scott shot Christopher Cervini in 2009 in Greece on a windy and rainy night. Scott saw Cervini and his friends rifling through neighbors’ cars. He went outside with a gun as his girlfriend called police. Scott confronted Cervini and said the youth ran at him. Scott shot Cervini dead.

Police wasted no time charging Scott with murder. A grand jury knocked the charge down to manslaughter. Scott testified in his own defense. A jury acquitted him.

Scott was charged right away. No charges have been filed against George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon. Scott is black and Cervini was white. Zimmerman is white and Martin was black. People think race was a factor in Martin’s killing. People thought race was a factor in charging Scott.

There are many more differences than similarities. But the similarities stood out. Nothing is ever simple.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

A recent study suggests youth curfews work to reduce crime. The study, published in the American Law and Economics Review, looked at data between 1980 and 2004 in cities of 180,000 or more with curfews. The data showed a drop in youth arrests in those cities. Here’s a portion of the abstract:

The evidence suggests that curfews are effective at reducing both violent and property crimes committed by juveniles below the statutory curfew age. Arrests of adults and youth above the curfew age also appear to decrease in the wake of curfew enactment; however, these effects are smaller and statistically insignificant.

But critics of the study say the author never compared the cities with curfews to those that don’t have curfews. Perhaps the decline of the arrest rate of juveniles has nothing to do with curfews. Most research does not support curfews and at least one analysis found curfews can instigate youth crime.

Rochester enacted a youth curfew in 2006, but the courts struck it down several years later. The court ruling found the curfew violated the constitution and wasn’t necessary:

The court held that neither the crime statistics for the City nor the statements and opinions from political officials and the chief of police provided the requisite nexus to withstand even intermediate scrutiny; in other words, there was no demonstrated substantial relationship between the ordinance and its stated goals The court also determined that the curfew impermissibly interfered with parents’ fundamental substantive due process right to direct and control the upbringing of their children.

The data backs up the court ruling. While Rochester’s curfew was in place, more than 5,000 young people were picked up. Only a small number – 54 – were found committing felonies. It’s also worth pointing out 2008 was among Rochester’s most violent that decade.

It would have been nice to see a comprehensive study on Rochester’s curfew and its effectiveness, but it’s unlikely one will ever be enacted again here.

Links of the Day:

– Last winter, more than 200 cars were stolen in Rochester from drivers who left their cars running with the keys inside. People run into stores or daycares and come outside shocked to find their cars gone.

Rochester police have been trying to educate the public about this issue for a very long time. Leaving your car running can result in a $130 ticket. I’ve heard of drivers who have gotten their cars stolen and were shocked when the responding officers wrote them a ticket.

Now police have a good example of what can go wrong in addition to a theft. Last night, a man who stopped at a convenience store on West Main Street came outside to find his car – with his sleeping 6-year-old son in the backseat – stolen. The boy was found unharmed.

Some people have asked why the man wasn’t charged with endangering the welfare of a child. That seems extreme for a quick dash into the store, something that is clearly a common practice. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the dad got that $130 ticket.

– I’m not the only one who thinks politicians gushing over the Niagara Falls tightrope walk is in poor taste.

– We’ve seen big cuts announced in the Fairport Central School District. Get ready for other school districts – once thought untouchable – to announce similar measures.

– It’s the longest kidney donation chain ever, with 30 donations for 30 recipients.

– An Eastman School of Music violinist, turning 90, bids farewell.

– This might be the best obituary ever, about the colorful life of the man who rowed across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

A few days ago, I was doing a live report across the street from the Liberty Pole. I saw a woman carrying a briefcase being escorted to a parking garage by the “red-shirts,” paid guides and security patrols funded by the downtown business district.

Has it come to this?

I hate when people say “perception is reality” when referring to the safety of downtown Rochester. It really isn’t. Statistically, downtown is the safest part of the city. That’s probably because no one is around after dark, but it’s still true.

I loathe admitting this, but statistics don’t matter so much right now. The city has a perception crisis on its hands, thanks to a few pretty bad realities.

First, Monroe Community College decided to move out of the Sibley Building. Safety was clearly a huge issue, with the college president citing police calls for service. (Of course Sibley has more calls for service; there are more people there. Also, there’s no way of knowing if those calls for service will follow MCC over to the new site.) Anne Kress also talked about women feeling unsafe and being groped and harassed near the Liberty Pole. That’s totally unacceptable and indeed not a safe environment.

When Bob Duffy was police chief, he closed the downtown police section through consolidation. Then as mayor, he closed Midtown Plaza, which turned the Liberty Pole into a hangout for teens and loiterers. The city’s solution was to put up an ugly police trailer and portable toilets. Police on horseback patrolled when school let out. Fighting among youth and loitering continued.

Now MCC has devastated the city’s image by so loudly proclaiming Main Street to be unsafe. MCC bluntly told the city perception is reality.

Second, Genesee Brewing Company CEO Rich Lozyniak doesn’t plan to open the brewery’s proposed visitors center and restaurant in the evening hours because of the neighborhood’s safety. The brewery is not exactly “downtown,” but it’s directly across from High Falls and just north of the Inner Loop. Lozyniak said two of his late-shift employees were mugged over the summer. He wasn’t taking a chance guests would be similarly accosted.

Lozyniak’s decision is understandable, but it’s frustrating to the city’s cheerleaders.

I haven’t seen this much angst about safety issues in the city since the decision to build the soccer stadium off Lyell Ave. That actually is a troubled neighborhood. In the years since, we haven’t heard of any soccer fans becoming crime victims. Yet there are people who still won’t go to games because of the stadium location and the perception of safety.

I’m not sure of a solution beyond development that brings lots of people to our center city, creating such diversity and activity, everyone is comfortable – and safe.