CHENANGO COUNTY – According to a recent interactive map produced by Safer America, Chenango County’s combined income and crime rate scores rank it among the bottom-third counties in New York State.
The lower the overall score, the more desirable a county to live in. Chenango County ranked 56 for income score and 32 for crime score out of 62 counties in the state. The overall scoring for the county was 43.5, with only ten counties ranking lower. Those close to “last place” in the overall score were Bronx and Chautauqua counties, with number one determined as Putnam County. All calculations were made with data sourced from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
While this connection between low income level and high crime rates is noteworthy, both Alan Lizotte, Dean of the School of Criminal Justice at SUNY Albany, and Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride caution about drawing conclusions without a full understanding of context and other factors that can contribute to crime.
“Context is everything,” said Lizotte when speaking on the correlation of crime and income across the United States. “(Generally there is the assumption that) where there are a bunch of poor people there is more crime, but that's not necessarily true depending on what type of crime you want to look at.”
He explained that while income, or lack thereof, is a factor in blue collar crime, the type of crime just changes as one goes up the income level. Lizotte also explained that there are many crimes that go unreported.
“Correlation doesn't mean causation,” he said. “If you see an increase in the income level that doesn't mean crime would go down. There are a lot of things that correlate with income, such as rurality, education level, family structure and school drop-out rate.”
He also explained that the crimes one would normally think of, such as robbery and assault, have been on the decline for the past 25 years, while newer types of crime like embezzlement and credit card fraud, have been on the rise.
“My job is to try to untangle the knot, to parcel it out,” he said. He continued by describing his process for collecting information.
“You triangulate from (the accounts of) victims, offenders and the police officers' perspective,” said Lizotte.
When asked about the connections between income level and crime rates, McBride said, “From my perspective, poverty is a significant factor in crime because issues of poverty (can lead to) a limited family situation or home life.”
He continued by explaining that poverty is often connected to a lack of role models, which is often a problem faced by criminals.
“If you don't see mom or dad go to work every day, it makes it more difficult to achieve this yourself,” McBride said. “The more parents are involved in kids' lives, the more successful they will be in their lives. And by successful, I mean they are less likely to enter the criminal justice system.”
According to the District Attorney's Office, there were 153 indictments last year, including superior court information requests. So far this year, there have been 68 indictments.
When asked about the three crimes that occur most often in the county, McBride listed drug-related crimes, DWI, and residential/non-residential burglaries. McBride and Lizotte also addressed the issue of drug addiction, especially the rise in the use of heroin.
“You can shoot up for $5 ... It's medical companies providing too much of a really good things,” said Lizotte. “It's systemic at this point.”
He explained that these addictions “manifest themselves as a lot of little property crimes.” It's hard to understand how large the problem is because only those who are caught or overdose are recorded, he added.
Karen Osborn, Director of Probations, disagreed with putting a huge tie between low income and criminal activity. She explained that the middle class is just as active in crime, and that drug addiction and alcoholism are high sources of crime in the county and are not regulated to one specific class. In Osborn's experience, the larger problem is when those convicted with a crime struggle to find employers who will hire them.
“Criminal activity may not have any bearing on their ability to do the job,” she said and explained that part of her job is to help train those with prior convictions to re-enter the workforce.
When asked how to help diffuse criminal activity, she suggested that the county create more treatment programs and sources of support for addicts.
McBride also offered a solution, which was more directed towards the relationship between poverty and crime.
“Give everybody who needs a job, a job. Most of the people we see everyday are people who are not working,” he said. “Make sure there are opportunities, not for free services, but paying jobs so people can support themselves and their families.”
Visit www.huglaw.com/new-york-crimes-map/ to see the complete interactive map.