Making Sense Of Jamestown Crime Statistics

A professor of mine once said, “If someone believes something is true, then to that person it is true, and along with it, all of its consequences.” When studying criminology, I always remembered his words and hypothesized on how strongly it relates to criminal behavior. Criminologists have long searched for reasons people commit crime. There are several theories, but no single theory can adequately explain all types of crime or the variations in crime. Integrating theories can identify a wider range of criminal activity but that also has limitations.

Since I began campaigning for Jamestown City Council in May of 2017, crime has been the center of discussion and concern for city residents. Achieving an answer for their concerns is more difficult, but our police department of 46 sworn officers is certainly making progress. Arrests are occurring daily despite our low number of police officers. Jamestown’s ratio is approximately two officers per 1,000 residents, while the state average is three officers per 1,000 residents. In part one of this article, I will focus on reasons criminals may choose crime and some crime data surrounding Jamestown. In part two, I will focus on how residents and city leaders can help deter and reduce criminal behavior and victimization.

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) are both programs that measure crime variables. “Because the UCR and NCVS programs are conducted for different purposes, use different methods, and focus on somewhat different aspects of crime, the information they produce together provides a more comprehensive view of crime than either could produce alone.” We can’t exclusively rely on one report to evaluate crime when fewer than half, 42 percent, of all violent victimizations committed in 2016 were reported to police.

Crime is defined as “an act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it and for which punishment is imposed upon conviction.” The study of crime has led to several theories and many of them are relevant to Jamestown. Edwin Sutherland’s theory of Differential Association identifies crime characteristics that residents are most concerned about.

This theory proposes that through interaction with others, individuals learn the values, attitudes, techniques and motives for criminal behavior. We’ve all heard the proverb, birds of a feather flock together. If crime is a learned behavior and observed as normal behavior within some groups can we deter it, or is incarceration the only option? Do criminals choose crime or are they simply a product of their environment?

Regardless of whether criminal activity is a social norm for some individuals and groups, criminals recognize it as a deviation from societal norms and know it’s illegal. Most crime is not socially acceptable behavior. Therefore, we would infer that criminals knowingly and intentionally choose crime because they believe the opportunity exists and the reasons for committing the crime is greater than the reason not to commit the crime.

I have had several impromptu discussions with criminals. They all said they did not think they would be caught. Approximately 6.8 million people are supervised by the adult correctional systems in the United States. The United States has one of the highest rates of incarnation. Criminals are frequently caught and according to the federal bureau of prisons 46 percent are incarcerated for drug offenses. Recidivism rates are approximately 75 percent for drug offenders. Crimes involving theft are often closely associated with drug offenses and we need to recognize that recidivism and crimes surrounding illegal drugs are a major concern for the criminal justice system and a huge expense for taxpayers.

In recent events, WRFA reported that Jamestown’s crime rate is at a 25-year low. This is a good start and I do not want to take away from how positive this is. However, I do want to paint a clearer picture and provide a fuller understanding about how busy our police department is. Reporting solely on part 1 index crimes is a very simplistic and incomplete representation of crime in Jamestown. “The total reported part 1 index crimes in 2017 for Jamestown was 1,057 and the crime rate was based on the 2010 census that listed Jamestown with a population of 31,146. The Census Bureau now estimates that our population has declined as of July 1, 2016 to 29,775, a difference of 1,371; as a result, this will slightly increase our crime rate from 33 to 35 per 1000 residents. Not a major increase, but it does show how population effects crime statistics.

In 2016 our police department responded to 30,747 calls. Of those calls 1,264 were part 1 index crime. That leaves 29,438 “other” incidents that our police officers responded to. The incident rate per 1,000 residents is 100.32. There are more police calls than residents in the City of Jamestown. According to the 2016 public safety report, Jamestown has 46 sworn police officers, who are the frontline of the agency and have initial contact with the public when law enforcement services are requested. If all 46 Jamestown police officers responded to one of the 30,747 incidents, they would have individually responded to 669 incidents in 2016. That is a very high call volume to officer ratio. Our officers should be very proud of their hard work. Responding to that many calls is very impressive, especially when the nature of police work is dealing with difficult situations. Not all the calls are high priority, but many calls require multiple officers and backup from neighboring departments. The preliminary number of calls for service for 2017 were up about 9 percent from 2016. This means 2017 will be the highest number of calls for service in the last 5 years!

The state’s Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE) database, that excludes NYC, shows that Jamestown’s 10-year violent crime average through 2016, is up by 21.8 percent and firearm related violent crimes are up by 92.9 percent. Meanwhile, total GIVE reporting jurisdictions are down (-14%) and (-8.6%) respectfully. The report also shows that in 2017 Jamestown’s misdemeanor drug arrests are up 90.1 percent and Jamestown’s five-year drug arrest average is up by 148.6 percent.

“The City of Jamestown is the largest municipality in the county and continues to experience over half of the violent crime that is committed countywide.” (according to the 2016 office of public safety annual report) There are many variables to consider and identify when evaluating criminal activity within Jamestown. Presenting only one side can be misleading and does not clearly explain to residents the realities of how hard our police officers are working and the volume of calls they are responding to. Having all this data is a great resource. If utilized, it can lead to programs and training to reduce crime. Reducing crime is exactly what Jamestown needs to focus on. In part two, I will be addressing crime reduction strategies including Jamestown city government obligations.

Mike Laurin is a Jamestown resident.