October 18, 2021

Cortland County crime rate continues to fall

Crime dropped in Cortland County last year, state and federal data show, continuing a three-decade trend that has seen the crime rate drop more than 50 percent.

However, next year could be different, as the state’s bail reform laws and a potential economic downturn add to pressures that lead to crime.

The numbers are from 2018, and do not reflect two recent assaults in downtown Cortland, one Aug. 29 and one Tuesday.

Cortland Police Chief F. Michael Catalano said the city remains safe.

Every department in the county saw decreases in crime totals from 2017 to 2018 except for the Cortland City Police Department, which saw its total slightly increase to 344 in 2018 from 335 in 2017 and its violent crime totals go to 28 from 14, including one homicide.

Catalano said people shouldn’t worry, though, and that to categorize the city as becoming more dangerous isn’t correct.

“Crime is not bad in the city,” he said. “It’s a roller coaster, it ebbs and flows.”

For example, the numbers of violent crimes committed in 2018 resembles 2014 and 2015 data when the numbers were 27 and 30, respectively. Since 2014 the department totals have decreased overall almost 20%.

“Nationally, the crime rate has been coming down since 1991, 1992 and it’s been fairly consistent,” Herbert Haines, a criminology professor at SUNY Cortland, said earlier this year. “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.”

However, Catalano noted that come 2020, crime numbers could be affected by the bail reform laws — which mean officers will give out appearance tickets for misdemeanor and non-violent felonies — because those people will remain in the community before their court appearance, which could be up to 21 days after the ticket is given.

“That will remain to be seen, it very well could affect it,” Catalano said.

The economy might also affect the number of crimes. People are more likely to commit crimes if the economy isn’t doing well and a recent survey of economists by the National Association for Business Economics show that 74% of U.S. business economists think a recession will occur by the end of 2021, 38% believe it will happen in 2020 and 2% believe it will happen this year.

Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said the number of crimes reported doesn’t reflect all the work police do.

“In some aspects they probably are, but the reality locally is we’re still as busy as ever,” Helms said. “Each year our numbers have rose. My complaints are up over 1,000.”

However, not every complaint is a crime and not every crime leads to an arrest.

But arrests for misdemeanor and felonies were also down in 2018.

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.

Helms said those numbers could be affected this year and next because of staffing.

“I’m short five officers with retirements right now, so you can only respond to so much,” he said.

The decrease though mirrors the long-term decrease in the county’s crime rate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.