Our town is buzzing about a recent news article claiming the City of Norwich is ranked in the top 30 most dangerous locations in Upstate New York. According to Syracuse.com, which is the online version of the Syracuse Post-Standard, Norwich ranks number 28 out of 30 using the newspaper’s methodology of computing the FBI crime statistics for the year 2017.
Before anyone runs to Mayhood’s to buy guns and ammo, let me tell you something you need to know about crime statistics; there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Meaning, crime stats can be interpreted in many ways to generate “click-bait”, internet news headlines. Each ‘click’ on that story link and every Facebook ‘share’ increases add revenue. If you haven’t seen the news item yet and would like to read the April 2nd article, go to Syracuse.com and search “30 most dangerous places.”
Crime reporting numbers are provided to the FBI by local police departments which originate from two categories; crimes against people and crimes against property. The people crimes are murder, robbery, rape, and felony assault. The property crimes are larceny, auto theft, burglary, and felony vandalism. It should be noted, these are only the crimes which are reported to the police.
The frequency which people report crimes varies drastically in different communities, for instance; a bicycle stolen from a garage on Beebe Ave will most certainly get reported, while gunfire on the south side of Syracuse might not be worth phoning into the police, even if someone is wounded. Small town citizens are much more conscientious about such things.
If you read down the list starting at number 30, the Orleans County Village of Medina and ending at number one, the City of Niagara Falls, I’d like to point out each of those communities has something in common; each has their own police department which has crime reporting jurisdiction inside their boundaries. Even the combined communities of Lakewood and Busti, NY have their own oddly named police department reporting numbers for the two Chautauqua County towns as if they were one. In essence, it’s not the community; it’s the police agency that is being counted.
Having an exclusive police department supplying information for a given jurisdiction certainly makes it easy for the untrained to gather data from the FBI website. News people can look at the data, choose a reporting agency, pick an arbitrary weighted percentage then divide it by the population and just like that – 30 dangerous upstate places is a headline.
A place like the Town of Union (Broome Co. population 54,000) has no dedicated police department. It receives police protection from the sheriff’s office and the New York State troopers, who last I knew did not breakdown their crime reports to the FBI by political jurisdiction. They report their numbers as an organization. Union Township includes the villages of Endicott and Johnson City, both are on the list at #16 and #3 respectively, and it doesn’t seem likely that imaginary border-line on a map insulates Union from crime spilling over.
Closer to home, our high school-sports-rival-neighbor Oneonta did have a murder in 2017 and curiously, they don’t show up on the “list of 30.” I suspect this might be because some of the crime in City of Oneonta is handled by the SUNY campus police department which may dilute the dangerousness of Oneonta statistically. Hopefully, by now you see these numbers don’t work well when comparing communities against each other.
And one last anomaly that may have put Norwich on this list of 30 is the crime reporting computer software used by the city police department. At a time when many departments were using a free and clunky DOS based (remember DOS?) program provided by the state, the NPD under Mayor Bob Raphael, a former police officer, decided to purchase robust and precise crime reporting software. This made NPD officers more efficient, productive and the department the envy of the PDs using the no-cost state provided crime reporting program.
Trust me; Norwich is a safe, albeit a hardscrabble community. If you had a Friday night choice to take a walk at 9:00 pm on South Broad Street in Norwich or South Salina Street in Syracuse (#12 on the list), which walk would make you feel less comfortable? As you contemplate the list of 30, be reminded of what street cops of old used to say on mundane calls. If they were approached by an inquisitive crowd, the cop would tell them “move along, folks, nothing to see here.”