ITHACA, N.Y. — In the past three years, reported crimes in Ithaca have gone down. A decrease in property crimes largely contributes to the lower total, as violent crimes have gone up.

The total of violent crimes — which includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — is the highest it has been since 2009. However, taking a step back and analyzing decades of data, crime in both categories is declining.

There were 72 violent crimes reported in 2016, up from 55 in 2015, according to data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services . There were two murders, 10 rapes, 19 robberies and 41 aggravated assaults reported last year.

It is important to note when looking at recent data that the number of reported rapes is higher in the past two years because the definition for rape changed in 2015, which in turn increases the total number of violent crimes. In 2015 when the definition changed, there were 14 rapes reported. In 2014, there were 2.

The data comes from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. The City of Ithaca has data available going back to 1990.

Related: 2015 Ithaca crime rates: Slight increases in some violent crimes, property crimes down

Noting the increase in violent crimes last year, Officer Jamie Williamson said “thankfully” the crimes were not connected in any way.

“For the most part, they’re just not connected,” Williamson said. “Especially the homicides we’ve had, they are totally independent from each other and … I think that’s important for the public to understand because if you see how many homicides we had up until a year ago, we hadn’t had any homicides in like 4, 5, 6 years.”

Prior to 2016, the last murder in the City of Ithaca was in 2011. Before that, the last murder was in 2004.

Police are on the scene of a fatal incident outside Walmart in Ithaca. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Police are on the scene of a fatal incident outside Walmart in Ithaca. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Violent crimes

The first murder in 2016 was of 19-year-old Anthony Nazaire in August. Nazaire was and Ithaca College student attending a party at Cornell University and was fatally stabbed in a brawl that broke out after the party. Ithaca resident Nagee Green, who also attended the party, was accused of the crime and stood trial in June. Ultimately, the jury found Green guilty of assault, but not of murder.

The case may be re-tried in the future, but no dates have been announced.

Several months later, a UPS driver from Candor, William Schumacher, was shot and killed in the parking lot of Wal-Mart in Ithaca. After the incident, Justin Barkley, 38, of Ithaca, was charged with killing Schumacher. He was set to plead guilty just weeks later, however the judge did not accept his plea after he claimed he had shot and killed Donald Trump, and evidence could not prove otherwise. His competency was questioned and the judge did not accept his plea.

Related: Man accused of Ithaca homicide: ‘I shot and killed Donald Trump purposely, intentionally and very proudly’

After multiple psychiatric evaluations, Barkley was deemed fit to stand trial. He rejected a plea offer in May, and now jury selection for a trial is set to begin in September.

Aggravated assaults increased more than any other category in violent crime last year. The number went from 24 in 2015 to 41 in 2016.

Generally, aggravated assault means someone has utilized a weapon in harming another person, Williamson said. That weapon could be anything from a gun or knife to a baseball bat.

“I don’t think there’s any one single factor that you can attribute to an increase in any sort of crime in Ithaca,” Williamson said. “It’s many factors.”

Property crimes

Williamson said drug addiction fuels many local crimes, including violent crimes and property crimes. That said, property crimes have decreased since 2013, which surprised Williamson.

“I’m surprised because … the drug problem drives so much of what happens here. Drugs aren’t free,” Williamson said.

One initiative that has helped thwart some burglaries and larcenies, Williamson said, is the department authorizing overtime to patrol for areas with college students on East Hill and South Hill when students leave and return to educate them about the importance of locking their doors and windows at night and when going home for breaks.

There were 894 property crimes reported in 2016, which is down from 914 in 2015. The 2016 figure breaks down into 88 burglaries, 787 larcenies and 19 motor vehicle thefts.

One of the biggest challenges at the Ithaca Police Department currently is staffing, Williamson said.

“We don’t have the personnel and the resources to have our officers everywhere every second,” Williamson said.

The department is appropriated for about 70 officers, but between new hires in training, two people on long-term disability and several openings, there are about 59 officers.

Downward trend

Stepping back and looking at more than 27 years of data available for the City of Ithaca, the overall trend of crime across the board tilts downward.

When looking at data back to 1990 in the City of Ithaca, every category — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft — shows a downward trend except for aggravated assault.

Though overall crimes are down, three murders in a span of 10 months, as well as recent robberies and reports of shootings, have had the community on edge. People often comment on the increasing crime in Ithaca. One reason for the feeling that there is more crime in Ithaca in general, Williamson said, is the 24-hour news cycle and the fact that incidents and violent crimes are often reported in real time by news agencies and anyone with a cellphone.

Ten years ago, if there was a shooting or critical incident, most people would have just read about the news in the paper the next day. Today, people can read news as it is unfolding, comment and share it on Facebook and Twitter.

“I think that has a lot to do with the perception of violent crime having increased,” Williamson said.

The decrease in crime overall aligns with national data, as does the public perception that crime has increased, according to the Pew Research Center.

Explore the data

Take a look at data from 1990 to 2016. Hover over points to see a breakdown of individual crime categories.

View five years of data from other departments in Tompkins County.

The full data is available here.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.