ITHACA, N.Y.—A popular narrative in the City of Ithaca over the last several months, and even the last few years, is that the city’s crime rate has skyrocketed, fueled by a notion that police understaffing and governmental mismanagement has led to a thriving criminal element locally.

The problem with that narrative is that it’s not true, according to statistics collected by the Ithaca Police Department. Crime locally is down virtually across the board so far in 2021.

The statistics show that as of June 8, 2021, the city is not on pace for a particularly crime-ridden year, certainly lower than 2020 and if continued at the same rate, on par with 2019. Violent crimes, defined here as murder, manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping and sex offenses are almost all on pace to finish lower than last year. The Voice has added one murder to this year’s statistics, due to the killing of Alan Godfrey on July 20—which occurred after these statistics were compiled.

Crime2021 as of 6/8/202120202019
Murder1 11
Manslaughter000
Rape2125
Aggravated Assault135227
Kidnapping193
Sex offenses61317
Crimes reported to IPD over the last two years. Data collected and provided by Ithaca Police Department as of 6/8/2021.

While not listed as a category, IPD does state that there were two attempted murders in Ithaca in 2021 as of June 8. It does not list attempted murder data for the other two years.

In terms of violent crimes that have happened since this data was reported on June 8, there are a few highlight examples: the aforementioned killing of Godfrey, an arson-assault in the West End that resulted in attempted murder charges, a shooting on State Street that left one person with a bullet graze injury and a stabbing downtown in late June. Theoretically, the last two could result in attempted murder charges, but the public hasn’t been made aware of any arrests in those crimes—normally, for headline-grabbing local crimes, the police would provide an update upon arrest of a suspect.

Otherwise, it’s difficult to find anywhere in the crime data where incidents are rising past the averages of the last few years—many, in fact, appear to be lower in the first five months of 2021. It does seem like there will be more reports of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol in the current year: there have been 12 reported so far, already more than the 10 reported in 2020, though there were 33 in 2019 (this could be theoretically explained by the pandemic).

The rash of burglaries and larcenies last year, which got to the point of police issuing a warning to the community to double-check they were locking doors, also appears to have dissipated in 2021. In 2020, there were 143 burglaries (50 in 2019) and there were 1,019 larcenies (758 in 2019)—this year, the city is on pace for 64 burglaries for the entire year and 802 larcenies. Both would represent upticks from 2019, but steep declines from 2020.

Last year’s theft numbers could also theoretically be blamed on the pandemic, at least to a certain extent: many people were out of work or had their income reduced, making them likelier to commit petty crimes to make ends meet. Former Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor mentioned that possibility earlier in 2021.

Felony, misdemeanor and violation arrests are all on pace to pale in comparison to previous year numbers, as of June 8. Warrant arrests appear to be on a similar pace as 2020 and 2019, and DWI arrests are on pace to double from 2020.

The “elephant in the room” with the crime statistics is that at least some of the fear over Ithaca’s crime climate has come from the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association. The IPBA, which is Ithaca’s police union, has been using its social media pages with increasing frequency during 2021, accompanying each IPD press release with a large red font detailing the crime over the IPBA seal, as shown below.

Their Facebook presence drew a rebuke from Mayor Svante Myrick and Acting IPD Chief John Joly last month, when the union seemed to blame a slow response to Alan Godfrey’s killing on low overnight police staffing. The crime remains unsolved. Joly and Thomas Condzella, the IPBA President, both did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

“I think it’s important to keep in perspective that the PBA is actively running a public-facing campaign,” Joly, a former IPBA president himself before he ascended up the IPD ranks, said in response to a question from WENY about the IPBA’s claims. “It is accurate overall to say that we are severely understaffed and that can easily be demonstrated, however, that was not a factor impacting our response to the recent homicide. Our response to the homicide was not specifically hindered by our low staffing levels.”

Joly acknowledged that, frequently, Ithaca Police Department is unable to field a full roster of officers for shifts due to staffing levels in the department, but that was not the case on the night of Godfrey’s death, contrary to the union’s contention.

Myrick, who has held a fairly adversarial relationship with the local police union for years, responded similarly. In addition to Joly’s text response to WENY, he included the number of calls for police intervention over the last five years, though 2021’s are not included. It shows that there has not been a significant change, except downward, in calls for the police since 2016.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com