Crime increased 17% in 2020 compared to the year before in Cortland County, state data show, in a year when the coronavirus pandemic was behind both an increase — and a decrease — in criminal reports.
Figures from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services also reflect a doubling of violent crime between 2016 and 2020, to 97 incidents from 43, but property crime remained stable over five years.
Cortland County saw 862 crimes in 2020, up from 740 the year before, state data show. The state saw a more modest increase — 1.7% to 342,453 crimes — while upstate crime fell 0.9% to 165,134 reports.
Criminal reports nationally are up, too, but the FBI data show that may be because more agencies are reporting their data: 9,991 agencies covering 53% of the nation in 2020, up from 9,042 departments covering 47% of the nation.
The 12% increase in violent crime in the county between 2019 and 2020 — to 97 cases from 87 — fits with Aid to Victims of Violence data, said Director Linda Glover. From 2019 to November 2021, Aid to Victims of Violence saw a 60% increase in the number of orders of protection it has filed for its clients.
“That’s huge,” Glover said. It also saw a 40% increase in the number of people using its emergency housing service.
Bail reform, the pandemic, increased drug use and increased homelessness are all contributing to the short-term rise in crime, said Cortland Deputy Chief David Guerrera. The five-year increase is an effect of greater poverty and joblessness locally.
Bail reform was enacted Jan. 1, 2020, and eliminates the need for bail for most non-violent felony charges.
“Jail is not just a punishment, but to defendants it’s an opportunity to get into services,” Guerrera said, adding employers and housing services reach out to local jail inmates. “The jail was very successful for people getting into treatment.”
“The pandemic brought stress, isolation, loss of jobs, stress and all kinds of chaos to people’s lives,” Glover said, leading to domestic violence.
However, the pandemic was also behind a dip in some crime, said Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman.
“We did have an increase in domestics, but that didn’t result in arrests,” Pitman said. “All the domestics were verbal.”
With people staying home, the village saw less crime, he added: one violent crime and one property crime in 2020, down from five total crimes in 2019 and 28 crimes in 2016. “We took a nosedive in crime because of COVID.”
SUNY Cortland also saw crime drop.
SUNY Cortland went to remote learning midway through the spring 2020 semester and many classes remained remote through the spring 2021 semester.
Aggravated assaults were up in the city Cortland, to 33 in 2020 from 22 in 2019, 14 in 2018, six in 2017 and 13 in 2016. Those are incidents that cause “severe or aggravated bodily injury,” the FBI reports.
County and state police saw an increase in assaults, too, to fiveyear highs. The sheriff’s department reported seven aggravated assaults in 2020, up from four in 2018 and 2019, three in 2017 and one in 2016. State police had 11 reports in 2020, up from four in 2019, two each in 2018 and 2017, and four in 2016.
The number of rapes reported in the city fell more than 50% from 2019 to 2020, to 13 from 27.
However, the city reported only seven in 2018, two in 2017 and four in 2016.
Outside the city, sheriff’s officers and state police also saw increases in rape reports over five years, to 25 reports in 2020 from 13 in 2016.
When Glover searched the orders of protection Aid to Victims of Violence filed on behalf of others as of Oct. 31, she said she found 55% of the filings were related to illegal drug use.
“I estimate that’s a low number because I could have missed something,” Glover said.
Going back further, Glover said she found 26% in 2020 and 19% in 2019 involved illegal drugs.
The Cortland Common Council’s 2019 vote to leave the federal Drug Enforcement Administration task force, in Glover’s opinion, led to an increase in illicit drug use. The Cortland Police Department declined to comment on this issue.
“That really was having a real impact on this community in a good way,” Glover said. “I can’t believe that does not have an effect on the drugs in our community.”
In 2018, before the partnership was dissolved, former Detective Lt. Rick Troyer called the program successful in rooting out local drug distributors.
“Obviously, it’s worked. Our meth labs have gone way down,” Troyer said then. “And the same people are the people we’ve been chasing around for years.”
Former city Police Chief F. Michael Catalano also hailed the partnership as successful and effective in 2019.
“When you get the resources of the federal government to help you fight something, that’s a hard thing to walk away from,” Catalano said.
Larcenies — the theft of property — in Cortland rose 76% in 2020 from the year before, to 434 cases from 246, data show. That’s a marked increase from previous years; 241 larcenies were reported in 2018, 260 in 2017 and 264 in 2016.
However, burglaries — entering a building to commit a crime — in the city dipped slightly, to 74 in 2020 from 77 in 2019, although those are both in the range from 66 in 2018, 52 in 2017 and 78 in 2016.
County sheriff’s officers and state police both saw drops in burglaries and larcenies, data show. In 2020 sheriff’s officers received 40 burglary reports and 108 larcenies, while troopers reported 12 burglaries and 68 larcenies. In 2016, there were 43 burglaries and 203 larcenies reported to sheriff’s officers, while state police reported 17 burglaries and 78 larcenies.
Bail reform left many victims of domestic violence with little recourse, Glover said.
“Bail reform was a much needed action in New York state,” she said. “Unfortunately, I think it’s backfired in many ways.”
A third-degree assault, for example, where a person is attacked and injured, is a misdemeanor and does not qualify for bail, Guerrera said. And while fear has always prevented some victims from reporting their domestic abuser, the quick release of some defendants gives the victim less incentive to report.
Often, victims have only until a defendant’s arraignment, sometimes the same day as the arrest, to find safe shelter, Glover said.
“So now they have to get an order of protection and they have to get it quickly,” Glover said, adding that’s not always possible. “They’re stuck. Bail reform just made it really, really hard.”