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Violent crime falls across Hudson Valley, up in Yonkers and Rockland

Members of the White Plains Police Department's Neighborhood

Members of the White Plains Police Department's Neighborhood Conditions Unit patrol Mamaroneck Avenue near East Post Road, a block that has 10 bars and restaurants. (June 6, 2012) Credit: Faye Murman

Violent crime declined across the Hudson Valley in 2011 except in its largest city, Yonkers, and Rockland County, where it increased from the prior year and when compared to five-year averages.

Rockland reported a 20 percent boost in violent crimes -- homicide, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- versus 2010 and a 7.2 increase above the average of 514.6 incidents a year from 2007 through 2010, according to statistics from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

In the case of both Rockland and Yonkers, the year-over-year hike was spurred by jumps in the number of aggravated assaults and forcible rapes.

Still, in Putnam, Dutchess, Orange and Ulster counties, and in Westchester County overall -- even counting the impact of Yonkers -- violent crime declined in 2011 based both on the prior year and the five-year averages.

Joseph Ryan, chairman of the Criminal Justice and Security Department at Pace University, attributed the reduction to an increased emphasis on community policing, in which officers walk the streets and interact with citizens, giving them a deep knowledge of what's going on.

"I've been lecturing at the Westchester County Police Academy to all new recruits and I know I'm not the only one preaching community policing," said the 25-year veteran of the New York City Police Department.

The key to getting crime under control in places like the City of Newburgh, where violent crime edged higher in 2011, is to hire enough officers so that they're not simply responding to emergency calls, Ryan said.

"If you keep responding to calls, you're never going to get out into the community," he said. "Who are the great detectives in the world? There are no Sherlock Holmeses. The great detectives are those who go out into the community and know who to ask for help."

In Yonkers, violent crime climbed to 992 incidents in 2011 -- 10.8 percent above the 2010 rate -- and 6.8 percent above the five-year average. Homicides fell in Yonkers from nine in 2010 to seven, but forcible rapes climbed from 29 to 35 and aggravated assaults from 402 to 487.

Forcible rape is considered a violent crime, whereas statutory rape -- having consensual sex with someone underage -- is not.

In an email, Yonkers Police Commissioner Charles Gardner, who was appointed in January, acknowledged a bump in violent crimes.

"In 2011 we did experience an increase in the number of rapes and assaults as compared to 2010," he said. "It should be noted that in a majority of these rape incidents, the offender was known to the victim and arrests were made. Additionally, new penal-law charges of strangulation first and second degree were enacted in November of 2010, resulting in certain incidents that were formerly classified as simple assaults now being included in Part 1 assaults, thereby influencing assault statistics."

Gardner, however, cited progress in reversing the trend.

"In 2012 our crime statistics are trending downward, more specifically shootings and stabbings are down significantly due to the hard work of the men and women of the Yonkers Police Department," he wrote.

As in Yonkers, a spike in aggravated assaults, from 292 in 2010 to 354 in 2011, pushed Rockland's rate of violent crime higher. The county also counted one more homicide, nine more forcible rapes and 20 more robberies than in 2010. Within Rockland, one hot spot was the Town of Ramapo, which posted a 36.1 percent year-over-year increase in aggravated assaults in 2011 to 83.

Aggravated assault is a purposeful or reckless attack designed to injure someone, often with a deadly weapon.

Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said he suspects the state's statistics showing a sharp rise in crime in the Town of Ramapo -- dubbed among the top five safest places to live in America three times since 2008 by the Congressional Quarterly Press Annual City Crime Rankings -- may be wrong.

In any case, Zugibe said crime statistics may not provide an accurate picture.

"It's mind boggling to see how the statistics jump around," he said. "It's not because of a lack of aggressive action on the part of law enforcement."

Further, Zugibe said, the state's crime statistics do not reflect the rise of Internet-based crimes such as identity theft. "We believe crime is not down, but it has changed from robbing banks to ripping off people on the Internet with little chance of being caught."

Westchester County's violent crime total in 2011 at 2,451 was roughly flat, with the 2,458 the previous year nearly identical to the five-year average of 2,456. There were 60 fewer robberies than in 2010 but 58 more aggravated assaults, according to the statistics. Homicides edged up by one to 21.

Putnam County's violent crimes also edged down only slightly, from 69 in 2010 to 66 in 2011.

Dutchess County reported a 14 percent decline in violent crime from 2010 as murders, robberies and aggravated assaults all registered sharp declines.

Orange County posted a 1.7 percent year-over-year decline in violent crime overall, but the murder rate was nearly cut in half, from 17 incidents to nine.

Violent crime in Ulster County fell 17.9 percent on the strength of a sharp decline in aggravated assaults.

For New York State overall, violent crime rose 1.9 percent from 2010 to 2011. That bump came as part of a decade-long decline in which violent crime fell 18.3 percent statewide. In New York City, homicides fell 3.9 percent from 2010 to 2011; violent crime climbed 5.6 percent.

Although violent crime is down around the Hudson Valley, Ryan said the public should not be complacent: Budget cutbacks could threaten staffing levels and the gains made in recent years.

"My only concern is if the budgets in small towns and cities keep going on the negative side," he said. "I'm worried the crime trend could come back again."

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