ITHACA, N.Y. – Crime fell in the City of Ithaca last year, marking the fifth year in a row that crime rates stayed steady or decreased. Despite the overall downward trend, the number of violent crimes in Ithaca rose slightly in 2018.
The Ithaca Voice reviewed IPD data reported to the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services and obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Ithaca Police Department data shows 89 fewer crimes in the major categories tracked by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services in 2018 compared to 2017. Adjusted for population growth, the city’s index crime rate has fallen slightly each year since 2013 and is less than half what it was in 1990 at about 283 incidents per 10,000 people. In 2018, the number of violent crimes reported was slightly higher than the previous year, with 69 incidents reported compared to 60 in 2017.
The data reviewed includes index crimes tracked by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program: murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault are considered violent crimes, and burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft are considered property crimes. These categories cover major crimes that are likely to be reported to the police department, and therefore allow more reliable year-to-year comparisons than counting minor offenses.
While property crime has fallen significantly since 1990, the violent crime rate has fluctuated within a fairly narrow range in recent decades, peaking at about 35 incidents per 10,000 people in 1993 and bottoming out at about 12 per 10,000 in 2011.
Public perception – locally and nationwide – does not match crime rate
Despite the overall downward trend, many Ithacans still feel crime is getting worse, and they are not alone. Nationwide, surveys show Americans tend to perceive crime as higher than it is.
Each year, Gallup has asked a sample of Americans, “Is there more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago, or less?” A majority of respondents have consistently answered that crime is going up since 1990, even as it has fallen dramatically.
Asked whether crime rose “in your area” in the past year, respondents are more split, but in 2018 about 39 percent of Americans believed crime had risen locally.
Surveys track Americans’ perceptions of crime in part because perceptions are correlated with political behavior. For example, a Pew survey found in 2016 that about 80 percent of voters who supported Donald Trump believed crime had gotten worse in the past eight years, compared to about 40 percent of voters who supported Hillary Clinton.
The relatively stable rate of violent crime locally might help explain why many Ithacans feel crime is high. Even as property crime has dropped significantly, a handful of high profile cases may color many people’s perceptions of whether their community is safe.
In 2018, a few jarring incidents in Ithaca heightened concerns among residents: a Cornell student was found with a cache of weapons in March, an Ithaca College student was shot on the Commons in October, and a man was critically injured in a stabbing on North Cayuga Street in December.
Likewise, short periods of higher than normal crime or highly visible crime might give the impression that crime is rising overall. For example, in the past week a spate of smashed car windows in downtown Ithaca, along with two incidents in Lansing, led many Ithaca Voice readers to comment that crime is high in the area.
While the visibility of crimes over the past week is unusual, even in 2003, the lowest crime year since 1990, IPD reported 678 index crimes – an average of about 13 per week. While most crimes reported in any given year do not take place in public locations and are not serious enough to warrant news coverage, attention-grabbing incidents shape perceptions.
How does Ithaca compare to nearby cities?
According to police data reported to New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, Ithaca’s crime rate is significantly lower than larger nearby cities. The Syracuse Police Department reported about 406 index crimes per 10,000 people in 2017; Rochester police reported 471 per 10,000; and Binghamton police reported 518 per 10,000.
IPD Deputy Chief Dennis Nayor said it is difficult to compare Ithaca to other cities, due to its large student population and the daily influx of people who come to the city for work, services, shopping and so on. Nayor said the City of Poughkeepsie makes for a decent comparison point, though, given its similar population size and proximity to multiple colleges. In 2017, Poughkeepsie’s index crime rate was about 268 per 10,000.
Nayor said trends in Ithaca are consistent with a nationwide drop in crime since the early 1990s, called “the great crime decline” by some sociologists and criminologists. There are many hypotheses about why crime has fallen across the U.S., Nayor said, and multiple variables that likely factor into the drop locally.
“I like to think our proactive efforts have played a role,” he said, citing the department’s use of burglary suppression details, DWI checkpoints and community engagement initiatives as examples. He said factors like the economy and technology likely play a role too.
Nayor noted that even as crime has fallen, the volume of calls for service IPD receives has increased. While call volume decreased slightly between 2017 and 2018, Nayor said it has been trending upward for several years. In 2011, the department received 21,395 calls; in 2018, it received 24,192, an increase of about 13 percent.
Crime rates and call rates are imperfect measures of a police department’s efficacy and workload, and cannot capture all the factors that impact whether a community feels safe. As Nayor put it, “You can’t prove what you prevented.” Nevertheless, police data shows that rates of major crimes in the City of Ithaca have declined over time.
View 2017 and 2018 data below. Previous years are available through the NY Division of Criminal Justice Services.
2017 & 2018 Ithaca Inde… by on Scribd