Rochester, N.Y., Failing To Stem Homicide Increase


A section of Rochester, N.Y., called the crescent is home to 27 percent of city’s residents and 80 percent of its homicides. An unidentified man found shot in the street there Monday was Rochester’s 55th homicide victim of the year, the highest rate in New York State, reports the New York Times. Officials are finding it hard to stop the killings and escape the city’s budding reputation for violence.

Mike Green. the first assistant district attorney, won the election for county prosecutor despite an onslaught of negative campaign ads that claimed (erroneously, according to experts) that the county lagged in prosecution rates. Mayor William A. Johnson Jr., a Democrat, lost a campaign for Monroe County executive after Republicans hammered him on crime issues. Rochester’s homicide rate and “execution-style hits” were cited in a recent column in The Globe and Mail of Toronto.

“I don’t think Rochester is living up to its reputation as a problem-solving place,” said John M. Klofas, a criminologist at Rochester Institute of Technology. “There seems to be an inability by the community to come together to address the problem.” Rochester has had an unexpectedly high homicide rate for many years, a rate rising in the last three years, Klofas said. In 2002, the rate was 18.9 per 100,000 people (42 homicides). After Monday’s killing, with a week still to go in 2003, the city has a rate of 25.33. Last year, New York City’s rate was 7.3 per 100,000 people. The nation’s rate was lower, at 5.6.

The reasons behind the burst of violence, says Klofas, include the lagging upstate economy, a steady migration of residents to the suburbs, and a growing number of abandoned houses prone to become illicit drug centers. Only a quarter of high school freshmen in the city last four years and graduate; 93 percent of school-age children live in poverty.

People inside the crescent experience those problems in greater concentration. “It’s an area of great poverty and high consumption rate of drugs which fuels an incredibly high number of homicides,” said police chief Robert J. Duffy. “It’s like a cancerous tumor, and it’s growing.” The risk of young black men who live in the crescent of dying from a homicide is 65 times as great as the national average. “These are horrible numbers,” Mayor Johnson said. “I’ve heard people talk about the city like it’s a cesspool, a hellhole, a place to be avoided.”

The Times says that the Rochester Police Department has tried some of New York City’s techniques, such as holding individual precincts accountable for high crime rates. It has consulted crime experts and worked out agreements so state troopers and county sheriff’s deputies help patrol troubled areas. Senator Charles E. Schumer is trying to win federal money to help fight drug trafficking, and increase the Police Department’s overtime budget. Rochester has a larger police force than ever before – 705 officers. Duffy is not convinced that more money or people will end the resignation to violence he believes is at the core of the problem.


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