Putnam County safest in NY; Hudson Valley crime rates hold steady

The Putnam County Sheriff's Office and Correctional Facility

The Putnam County Sheriff's Office and Correctional Facility at the County Center in Carmel. (March 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

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Putnam County was ranked the safest county in New York for the third-straight year, while violent crime rates in Orange and Westchester counties were among the highest in the state, crime statistics released by the state's Division of Criminal Justice Services show.

Those were the statistical outliers in the new data from the state, which detail overall crime, violent crime and crime rates for New York's 62 counties in 2012.

Orange County had the seventh-highest violent crime rate in the state in 2012, the data show, while Westchester County had the 10th-highest violent crime rate. Westchester's violent crime rate in 2012 was virtually the same as it was in 2011, with 254 out of every 100,000 residents falling victim to violent crime.

POCKETS OF CRIME

Before drawing any broad conclusions about violent crime locally, law enforcement leaders will need to take a closer look at those numbers, broken down by town and city -- and even by neighborhood -- in the county, said Robert McCrie, a professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

"Where exactly in Westchester County was this violent crime? It most certainly was not dispersed uniformly. There would be crime clusters," McCrie said. "And then one says, 'Why do these communities have a disproportionate amount of violent crime or property crime than the rest of the county?' Then there could be a plan put together for that community or for that part of the county to deal with a particular type of crime."

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Historically, those "clusters" in Westchester County are in places like Yonkers, New Rochelle and Mount Vernon, where one in every 103 people fell victim to violent crime in 2011, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. Likewise, in Orange County, the main culprit is Newburgh, which was famously dubbed the "Murder Capital of New York" after leading the state in per capita murder rate in 2010. More recently, Newburgh was derided as "the most pathetic place in the state of New York" by federal Judge Colleen McMahon.

A spokeswoman for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino didn't respond to specific questions about the crime statistics or countywide crime-fighting strategies. It's not clear how much, if any, countywide coordination exists between other agencies and the Mount Vernon Police Department, which is the subject of a federal investigation and is led by a mayor who is himself the subject of several other federal investigations.

A message left with Orange County Executive Edward Diana was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

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MOST, LEAST VIOLENT COUNTIES

Overall, the Hudson Valley fell in the middle of the pack among counties outside New York City. Upstate counties like Erie and Schenectady, which felt the impact of the economic recession more acutely over the past several years, had the highest violent crime rates in the state: 458 out of every 100,000 people in Erie County were victims of violent crime in 2012, the data shows, while the violent crime rate in Schenectady County was 447 per 100,000 in the same year.

Citing data that shows a downturn in economic activity doesn't necessarily spur people toward committing more crime, McCrie said violent -- and overall -- crime rates in those upstate communities, and places like Newburgh and Mount Vernon, could be related to a lack of resources on the law enforcement side. National crime rates continued a downward trend since 2007 even as the economy sagged, but stagnant or rising crime rates are observed in some of the same New York counties where police agencies have cut back, enacted hiring freezes, or simply elected not to fill vacant positions when officers retire.

"There's no automatic economic argument," McCrie said. "In communities which may have laid off police officers, reduced their resources ... there could be that relationship to increased crime activity."

Perhaps the greatest statistical outlier was in Putnam County, which Sheriff Donald B. Smith says had the lowest crime rate in the state for the third-straight year. That claim is based on the overall crime rate, including property crimes. Sparsely populated upstate Herkimer County boasts the lowest violent crime rate in the state, and Putnam County's violent crime rate is the second-lowest.

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In a statement, Smith attributed the low crime rates in his rural county to a strong community fabric.

"Caring citizens, active houses of worship, outstanding civic organizations and schools, and businesses," Smith said, "have supported law enforcement efforts in ensuring that Putnam County remains a safe place to live, work and raise a family."

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