April 24, 2019

Is it really safe out there?

Arrests in Cortland County down, but no one knows why

The number of people arrested in Cortland County in 2018 is down more than 20% since 2011 to the lowest number since 2006 and levels not regularly seen since the 1970s.

Nobody really knows why.

“We’ve seen arrests decrease here for our department, and not just arrests, but calls for service too,” Cortland City Police Chief F. Michael Catalano said Tuesday. “I think it could be a little bit of everything.”

He noted the arrest rate could be decreasing because of successful police work in preventing crime or fewer people committing crimes.

Herbert Haines, a criminology professor at SUNY Cortland, said decreases in arrests isn’t something seen nationally. However, the decrease in arrests does mirror a long-term decrease in the county’s crime rate, and that does follow a national trend.

“Nationally, the crime rate has been coming down since 1991, 1992 and it’s been fairly consistent,” Haines said. “Sometimes local trends rise and fall, but overall we’re seeing decrease. The fact is that the long-term decline in crime rates nationally is a bit of a mystery.”

Arrests on misdemeanor offenses in Cortland County are down 26% to 884 in 2018 from 1,141 in 2011 and felony arrests are down 14% to 355 in 2018 from 413 in 2011. However, drug arrests, both misdemeanor and felony, have increased 98% to 244 in 2018 from 123 in 2011.

“This could just be a cyclical trend,” Catalano said. “I don’t know if it will be a long-term trend.”

Catalano said the department has seen a decrease in felonies over the past few years and many of the felony arrests they make are related to grand larceny or fraud. He was surprised by the decrease in misdemeanor arrests though, noting petit larceny is pretty big in the area.

He also said they have seen an increase in drug arrests for his department.

“A lot of the drug misdemeanors are methamphetamine, bath salts and heroin,” he said.

He said they aren’t seeing a lot of misdemeanor marijuana arrests because someone would need to have a large quantity of marijuana in order for it to be a misdemeanor and not a violation.

Arrest figures are harder to explain than the crime rate because they can vary because of a number of factors, including policing, Haines said.

“Sometimes cities will have a sort of crackdown on crimes that will lead to more people being arrested even though crime isn’t going up,” he said.

Cortland County Sheriff’s Capt. Rob Derksen said the same thing — using the example of a drug bust. He said a bust could lead to 30 arrests and an increase in the arrest rate and lead people to think crime is worse in the county than it is.

“Arrests don’t account for crimes that are committed but aren’t solved,” he added.

In fact, while arrests have been consistently down since 2011, the number of crimes — mostly property crimes — has ticked up since 2015, although 2018 figures are not available.

Derksen said he sees the arrest rates as being “pretty consistent.”

“Obviously you’ll have peaks and valleys,” he said.”I’d love a world where there isn’t any crime. I might be out of work, but I’m willing to trade that.”

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