News flash: Rochester is actually one of the safest cities its size in the U.S.
Awareness of crime — not crime itself — is at an all-time high.
New forms of media provide us with more immediate and abundant crime reporting than at any point in history. And in many ways that is a good thing. The public has the right to know who is committing the crime, where it is happening and how authorities are responding to it.
But there's a downside to the increased awareness: people get nervous. That sense of fear is only heightened in a rapidly-changing city like Rochester.
The number of people living here has doubled since 1980, with the latest census reporting a population of close to 112,000. With plans to transform the city over the next 20 years under the Destination Medical Center initiative, the trajectory of growth will only accelerate.
However, the most recent statistics show overall crime in Rochester, specifically violent crime, has dropped sharply over the past decade despite the population increase. There were nearly 300 violent crimes in 2005 compared to 243 in 2014.
The city's crime rate — which measures crime per capita — has also been dropping for decades, hitting a 40-year low last year. According to a recent analysis of data from the FBI, Rochester is now the 7th safest city in the U.S. with at least 100,000 people.
In a recent interview with the Med City Beat, Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson said overall crime rates are 56 percent lower in Rochester than in other similar size cities, while property crime rates are 37 percent lower.
Peterson cited new technology, as well as the department's focus on intelligence-led policing, as tools in helping prevent crime. But he noted that serious crimes comprise less than two percent of calls, and demand for others services — like responding to traffic accidents and providing medical assistance — is starting to outpace the growth of the population
"We do need to be careful; crime rate is not the only measure of public safety and certainly not the only thing the public expects and demands from a public safety service," said Peterson, who has spent 34 years with the department including 17 as chief.
Peterson said the department is not doing "nearly as well" as he would like with response times, a problem he attributed to inadequate staffing levels. He has requested funding for 13 additional officers in 2016.
"Our concern is we don't want to — can't — fall behind in that staffing equation," he said. "It's virtually impossible to catch up later on."
As the city continues to grow, Peterson said, the higher population density will require staffing levels to follow a geometric progression. He made the comparison to St. Paul, a city with the same geographic footprint of Rochester (54 square miles) but twice the population.
"While they're twice the size, they have five times the staffing of Rochester," he said. "That's not because they want to pay for that; that's because they need that."
Ultimately, Peterson said the best opportunity for the future is finding ways to prevent crime, rather just reacting to it. But he said that will require a community-wide effort, in which different organizations work together to solve common factors that lead to crime — like illiteracy, poverty and addiction.
"The fact is the police department doesn't have officers out there working on those issues. We're responding to the consequences of the issues, but the more effective a community is in addressing those issues, the more effective we will be in addressing crime."
About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.
(Cover graphic: Chad Johnson / Edited)