A look at crime downtown

The Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York)

August 4, 2008 Monday



BYLINE: By Greg Munno Civic engagement editor


LENGTH: 1521 words

Downtown Syracuse is among the safest neighborhoods in the city, a Post-Standard review of Syracuse police reports found.

The Syracuse Police Department breaks the city into eight neighborhoods: Downtown, Lakefront, North Side, Eastwood, East Side, Valley, South Side and West Side.

The department warns that comparing neighborhoods is a dicey proposition. After all, the Lakefront area has only 13 streets and few permanent residents, whereas the North Side has hundreds of streets and thousands of residents.

Nonetheless, a review of the statistics from each neighborhood make it clear that downtown — home to about 3,000 residents, 30,000 workers and thousands of visitors — is relatively safe.

The issue is crucial for those who want to see downtown become the vibrant hub of culture and economic activity that most experts say is key to the health of Central New York as a whole, said David Mankiewicz, director of the Downtown Committee.

Businesses won’t move downtown if they feel their employees would be threatened. Suburbanites won’t trek into the city to check out the symphony if they feel it would put them at risk. And shoppers will almost certainly take their money to the mall instead of Armory Square if they’re worried about getting robbed while negotiating the city’s streets.

The numbers suggest these folks don’t have too much to worry about. Syracuse’s crime rate is lower than that of its Thruway neighbors — Rochester, Buffalo and Albany — and substantially lower than one of Central New Yorkers’ most popular vacation destinations, Orlando, Fla., according to FBI statistics.

And the crime that is happening in Syracuse isn’t, for the most part, happening downtown. About 6 percent of the city’s violent crime occurred downtown in 2007, along with 7 percent of the city’s property crime, according to police statistics. Violent crime in the Lakefront, Eastwood and Valley neighborhoods accounted for 10 percent of the city’s total.

Meanwhile, 84 percent of violent crime happens in the city’s four other neighborhoods: the East Side (12 percent), the West Side (17 percent), the South Side (26 percent) and the North Side (29 percent).

Capt. Rebecca Thompson, who oversees law enforcement downtown, said the violent crime that does happen downtown, such as the four rapes reported in 2007, generally involve people who know each other.

“You’ll have some issues with fighting between intoxicated individuals,” she said. “But the rapes, for instance — and I don’t at all want to minimize the seriousness of date rape — but none of those women were snatched off the street by strangers,” she said.

“Downtown is really a very safe place,” Thompson added. “And because it is a small area and we have a good rapport with the Downtown Committee security team and the shop owners, when something does happen, we can react to it very quickly.”

Thompson said there are a minimum of three officers downtown at all times. During the days, they are joined by a fourth officer and two security officers from the Downtown Committee. On weekend nights, a special Armory Square detail hits the streets.

Still, there are things that could be done to make people feel safer downtown. Thompson and Mankiewicz both say lighting can be improved downtown.

“Lighting makes such a big difference,” Thompson said. “It makes people feel safer, and, in fact, they are safer. Proper lighting is a strong deterrent to crime.”

Thompson also noted that downtown has a high number of goods being stolen out of people’s cars, a crime she said is preventable.

“It’s not like the neighborhoods where teens go around trying to get into every car on the street,” she said. “Almost all these thefts are of high-ticket, high-tech items that have been left in plain view — a laptop, a GPS system, a satellite radio system. People need to take these with them or adequately conceal them.”

Thompson added that most of this theft is happening to cars parked on the street, not in lots or garages. That’s noteworthy because a recent city survey found that people were fearful of parking in garages.

Mankiewicz and John Marcone, director of the Downtown Committee’s security force, also say more should be done to get panhandlers off of the street.

“Even though most of the panhandlers aren’t dangerous, they make people feel unsafe,” Mankiewicz. “If you feel threatened, even if you were never really in danger, you are going to see downtown as dangerous.”

For the most part, Marcone agreed that the panhandlers aren’t dangerous.

“But most of them have drug and alcohol problems,” he said. “When you give them money and they get some drink in them, then they get bolder and sometimes we have a problem.”

For this reason and others, Marcone and Mankiewicz would like to see a campaign similar to one in Northampton, Mass., that discourages people from giving to panhandlers.

It instead asks people who feel they must help to put money in donation boxes that double as public art pieces. The money goes to organizations that provide drug and alcohol treatment or have other programs that aid the homeless.

“You’re really only fueling their addictions, making them more dangerous and encouraging them to continue plying their craft downtown when you reward them by giving them money,” Marcone said.

Greg Munno can be reached at gmunno@syracuse.com or 470-6084

You said it . . .

Here’s what Central New Yorkers are saying about safety in downtown Syracuse:

‘‘Crime is the number one obstacle to an enjoyable visit to downtown. . . . Clean up the city. City council and residents must be tough if they’re serious about reclaiming and revitalizing the city. So far only the criminals have been tough . . . and winning.” — Posted by cnyknxRenu on theCNYSpeaks blog

‘‘The problems to overcome are the crime and homeless people that go around asking for change. There should be more police presence like there is in the mall.” — Posted by money629 on the CNYSpeaks blog

‘‘I have been frequenting both downtown and the university area as long as I can remember. . . . I have been to many other cities that have a far worse issue with ‘panhandlers’ on the streets. It is uncomfortable at times and I can see how it might turn off some people. I think, generally speaking, that if you are cordial and not rude and mean to them they are not that way to you.” — Posted by modernpopcul on the CNYSpeaks blog

‘‘I never feel threatened downtown, and I am a stay-athome mom!” — Kristin Spencer of Solvay

‘‘You have to be smart, pay attention, walk with others. But that’s the same way I feel when I am at home in Cortland. I don’t see Syracuse as being dangerous. I’ve certainly never had a problem here. But again, you have to be smart, in the city or in a small town – it doesn’t matter anymore.” — Spencer’s friend, Missy Zell, of Cortland

‘‘I’ve never felt threatened downtown. The police down here are fantastic. If they even smell it, they’re on it.” — Dana Jeschke, of Syracuse’s Sedgwick neighborhood.

‘‘I don’t like the panhandlers. They bother me and make people uncomfortable. But I can honestly say I have never felt threatened downtown.” — Jeschke’s friend, Tony Simiele, of Liverpool.

‘‘The city seems clean and safe to me. I think anyone from any suburb will see their city as dangerous, but I never get a bad vibe from people on the streets of Syracuse.” — Jose Bermudez, of Ocala, Fla., who visits family in Syracuse every couple of years.

‘‘The city seems much better off than it did when I moved to Central New York six years ago. It is cleaner. Crime seems to be down. There are fewer bums. The beggars do unnerve me a bit. But you tell them ‘no’ and they leave you alone. The large police presence downtown also makes me feel safe.” — Jecenia Bresett, of Liverpool.

City sampler

Although substantial, Syracuse’s violent crime rate is lower than in many cities, including other Thruway corridor cities and many places that Central New Yorkers visit, such as Orlando, Fla., and move to, such as Charlotte, N.C.

The statistics below represent the number of violent crimes reported in 2006 per 100,000 residents. They are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Oswego: 292.

Binghamton: 452.

Syracuse: 1,066.

Charlotte, N.C.: 1,077.

Rochester: 1,260.

Albany: 1,298.

Buffalo: 1,411.

Cleveland: 1,547.

Baltimore: 1,697.

Orlando, Fla.: 1,983.

Source: FBI

Size doesn’t matter Cities with populations between 100,000 and 200,000, such as Syracuse, can have vastly different crime profiles. The average number of violent crimes per 100,000 population in 2006 for such cities was about 601. Pueblo, Colo., population 105,452, came closest to this average with a crime rate of 596. Irvine, Calif., population 188,535, had the lowest crime rate of cities in this size range at 67 violent crimes per 100,000 for all of 2006. Flint, Mich., population 118,256, had the highest violent crime rate at 2,596 per

GRAPHIC: PHOTO John Berry/The Post-Standard BOB WASKIEWICZ, a security officer for the Downtown Committee, walks down South Salina Street in Syracuse during his patrol Friday.

Jennifer Meyers/The Post-Standard People dine outdoors on a Saturday evening along Walton Street in downtown Syracuse.

PHOTO: NO CREDIT “I’ve never felt threatened downtown. The police down here are fantastic. If they even smell it, they’re on it.” – Dana Jeschke, who lives in the Sedgwick Farms neighborhood of the city.

“I don’t like the panhandlers. They bother me and make people uncomfortable. But I can honestly say I have never felt threatened downtown.” – Tony Simiele of Liverpool.

“The city seems much better off than it did when I moved to Central New York six years ago. It is cleaner. Crime seems to be down. There are fewer bums.” – Jecenia Bresett of Liverpool.

MAP, GRAPHIC: Crime by neighborhood, 2007 Statistics compiled by the Syracuse Police Department reveal where violent crimes and property crimes occurred in 2007.

Neighborhood Violent crimes Property crimes

Downtown 6% 7%

Lakefront 1 7

North Side 29 24

Eastwood 4 6

East Side 12 16

Valley 5 6

South Side 26 19

West Side 17 15

Violent crimes include murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and assault. Property crimes include burglary, larceny, larceny from a vehicle and motor vehicle theft.

Source: Syracuse Police Department The Post-Standard

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