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Despite reports of a jump in violent crime in the city of Rochester, most readers say they do not feel at risk within the Inner Loop—among the safest parts of the city statistically.
Two-thirds of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll said they feel safe in downtown Rochester. Twenty-seven percent of those reported feeling very safe.
While overall crime decreased and larceny and motor vehicle theft fell to their lowest levels in 25 years, Rochester had an increase of nearly 5 percent in violent crime in the first half of 2012.
The Rochester Police Department’s midyear report shows murders jumped to 20 from 14 the previous year as total violent crimes increased to 947 from 904. Those figures compare with five-year averages of 19 and 1,053, respectively.
Few of the crimes in the first six months of 2012 occurred in downtown, the portion of the city within the Inner Loop—only one murder and a total of 39 violent crimes. Yet public safety has been an issue in the central business district. Monroe Community College cited it as a factor in favoring relocation of its Damon City Campus from East Main Street to a site near Eastman Kodak Co.’s headquarters.
By a margin of 74 percent to 63 percent, more people who live and work downtown said they feel safe there, compared with those who don’t live or work within the Inner Loop.
Of the 36 percent of respondents who currently work or live in downtown Rochester, those who said they feel very safe downtown and those who feel somewhat safe were split almost equally. Twenty percent said they feel not very safe, and 7 percent said they don’t feel safe at all.
Of the 63 percent of respondents who work or live somewhere other than downtown, 22 percent said they feel very safe downtown, compared with 41 percent who feel somewhat safe. Twenty-seven percent said they don’t feel very safe, and 11 percent said they don’t feel safe at all.
Roughly 835 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted July 30 and 31.
Do you feel safe when you are in downtown Rochester?
Very safe: 27%
Somewhat safe: 39%
Not very safe: 25%
Not at all safe: 9%
Do you currently work or live in downtown Rochester?
I am writing this from Vienna, Austria. Over the years, I have walked through Vienna, Dublin, Naples, Rome, Venice and many other European cities well after dark and felt safer than being on Main Street in Rochester during the day. Certainly a sad commentary that Rochester has more shootings in a week than most of these cities have in a year.
—Ed Jackson, retired
Downtown is very safe, and the statistics prove it! Unfortunately, that is not the perception due to the extensive press coverage that individual incidents receive. And unfortunately, perceptions are realer than reality!
There needs to be more of a police presence, and not just at large venues—East End, Jazz Fest. In areas where there is a congregation of business and people, I feel safer. In those dead zones of no activity, people or open businesses, I won’t walk (unless in a group) even to get to another area of activity—which makes parking a challenge, as well.
It is the suburbanites who believe they will be killed if they come downtown. This is nothing more than ignorant, urban myth with heavy racial overtones. I live in the city of Rochester, three minutes from downtown. I go downtown almost daily—sometimes even on a bus! As an interior designer, one of my primary resources is the Designer's Library, located on Central Avenue. Bob Briessinger, owner of Designer's Library, bought the Cable Weidmer Building several years ago and has been doing amazing improvements on the property—both interior and exterior. A few weeks ago, he removed asphalt from the corner of Westcott Street and installed an urban garden. And his fellow area business owners—woodworkers, architects, etc.—are creating an exciting, dynamic district. But I am sure that suburbanites would deem this a "dangerous neighborhood." Of course, as soon as it is "discovered," it will become the darling of urban chic. Suburban people will want to flock to it and brag about visiting it at cocktail parties. Roughly 200,000 people live in the city of Rochester. If crime were what the suburbanites inflate it to be, I estimate that between 2,000 and 20,000 people would be killed each year. That is not the truth. But those who live in fear will never be dissuaded. Sign me a proud city resident and business owner.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design
It really galls me when someone I know—either from the boonies, the suburbs, or even places like Brighton—proclaims that they have never been to downtown Rochester. Let’s see: That means they have never been to the Eastman Theatre to hear the RPO or other concerts; they have never been to the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival; they’ve never been to a holiday parade down Main Street; they have never been in a Rochester-area building more than a few stories high; they may only have driven over the Genesee River at some point and hardly noticed; they have never been to local minor-league sports games; they have never seen a movie at the Little Theatre. Some are wary of coming to my home, and I live just east of Culver Road! Apparently these folks don't know their Rochester geography. They hear of a crime committed and think that downtown is crawling with criminals. We do unfortunately have crimes that make the 6 o'clock news. Rarely do they happen downtown, per se, though of course sometimes they do. I invite all to do their homework and develop a passing familiarity with downtown as opposed to the areas of the city they hear about on the news. Of course, I wish everywhere were safe all the time. How is it that crimes of various types happen in the ’burbs and outlying towns and people don’t get scared away from those locales?
—Margie Campaigne, Margie’s Green Irene Mart
With our irrational love of guns leading to far too many guns in our society, one can never feel completely safe. I speak from experience, having been held up at gunpoint years ago in the Washington Square garage at 5 p.m. on a workday.
I lived for many years within the Inner Loop and now live on East Avenue. The Inner Loop area has always been very safe. Compared with crime in the suburban malls, it’s a haven. As you move out of downtown into the Crescent, I feel less secure; hence a feeling of some amazement that MCC would choose to move from a safe setting to a less safe setting because of safety.
—Chip Dawson, Dawson Associates
I feel every bit as safe in downtown Rochester as I do in any other major metro city’s downtown, and safer than many. Parking here is easier to find, so you can typically park closer to your destination, which is especially helpful at night. Our downtown area seems cleaner than many cities, and as time goes by there are more and more good reasons to come downtown for evening events and activities. There are certainly parts of Rochester where I wouldn’t necessarily feel safe, but the downtown area certainly seems to be heading in the right direction.
—Jocelyn Goldberg-Schaible, president, Rochester Research Group
I personally don’t feel “unsafe” when I am downtown. I am more alert when I’m downtown and feel confident of being able to repel a reasonable threat. On the other hand, the groups of people that loiter, hang out, harass, are inconsiderate, not respectful, and unsightly, make going downtown a journey of necessity, not desire. You could waste all the tax dollars you want on bus depots, entertainment venues and pretty sidewalks, to no avail. If you don’t address the human factor and clear the streets of litter, homeless people and loitering dregs, then you haven’t done anything to make downtown “inviting.” You could cite all the crime numbers you want. Good, bad, or indifferent, when you are a victim of assault, vandalism or any other crime, the “numbers” won’t matter.
Both the Rochester Downtown Development Corp. and the city of Rochester have made well-thought-out efforts to have either a policeman or, as they are called, the Red Shirts patrolling downtown. The city has an officer at Four Corners throughout the day, and the county has an officer placed outside the county building. The parole office places a car in the outlying parking lots, particularly during the winter months when it is darker earlier. Generally speaking, West Main Street from the river to Broad Street is one of the most pleasant and safe areas of Rochester.
—Joe Wierzbowski, Plymouth Photo Studio
Downtown Rochester is a broad term. I feel comfortable in some areas more than others. And much depends on the time of day.
True scenario: Pulled in front of Hochstein (Plymouth Avenue) at 6:30 p.m. to pick up a student. During the one-minute wait, a man dressed shabbily approached the car asking for money. It made me nervous. I wondered what would happen if he got violent. What about my daughter, who was approaching the car at that moment? I was uncomfortable. There was no one around to "protect" me. Of course, the man then walked away, my daughter got in the car and we safely returned home to the suburbs. So what? We got a glimpse into the life of the poor? Were we safe? Sure, just not comfortable. Not sure whether that speaks more about me or about safety in the city.
—D. Arthur, Penfield
I'm afraid that there needs to be a fifth bullet point in Question No. 1 reading: "It depends on the time of day." My office is near the corner of Monroe and Alexander, and I often bus to and from work. While I have no qualms walking through downtown in the early morning (even when dark in the winter) or during the day, night time is another story. Our Main Street is so deserted after dark that walking there alone is not a great idea. Imagine waiting for a bus after nightfall and feeling like the hunted. An ex-RPD friend confirmed my gut instinct. So, yes, I feel safe in downtown Rochester but, as in any city, always pay attention to what is going on around me and make intelligent choices about my actions.
—Linda Gallagher, MVP Health Care
While safety is the No. 1 issue facing downtown, the appearance of the properties on Main Street as well as the difficulty parking downtown also add to the stigma of downtown not being a friendly environment.
—Jon Freitag- Rochester
I used to live in Corn Hill but moved to Canandaigua after I was mugged just a block from my home. While I enjoyed walking to Geva Theatre, Frontier Field and the Genesee River, I found it way too stressful thinking about how vulnerable I had become.
The entire downtown is coming back thanks to the sparks that started in the East End and private investment. Contrast that with the millions of dollars pumped into the High Falls area by Mayor Johnson—NOT such a great return.
—Terry Palis, Corporate Communications Inc.
Given the deteriorated infrastructure, horrific traffic patterns, reckless drivers, devious-appearing people wandering the streets and lack of parking, downtown Rochester is a place to avoid.
Went to Frontier Field July 30, 2012. Had a great time at the game. Came out to find my son's car had a rock thrown through the back passenger window. We were parked on Oak Street near Brown. About six other people had the same thing happen to their cars. Two police cars went by we tried to get them to stop; they kept going. No one came out to investigate this. I think the people who come out to these stadiums need some police protection. But then again, we are paying our own way.
Downtown Rochester is one of the safest places in Monroe County. Having said that, one thing that would make it "feel" safer is more feet on the street. Think about how much safer it feels to be downtown during the Jazz Festival, even at midnight or 1 in the morning, compared to a typical evening when the streets are almost empty. Hundreds of apartments and condos are under construction right now, and we expect to add hundreds of new "feet-on-the-street" every night over the next few years.
—Dana K. Miller, City Council vice president
I went downtown for the July 4th fireworks and it was a very unpleasant experience. I drove home feeling disgusted and sad.
I feel safe in most areas, but I totally avoid the Liberty Pole area on Main Street.
—Daniel Mossien, architect
There is no longer a real "downtown" in Rochester. It has become a ghost town!
—Dannielle Belfiore, Rochester City School District
I have worked downtown for more than nine years and frequent many cultural and arts venues after hours. I have felt very safe and recommend more people get out to Rochester's great institutions events!
—Cheri Trimble Miller, Hochstein School of Music & Dance
You need to describe what is considered "downtown." Is that Main and whatever, or is East and whatever. I feel safe on East Avenue up to Main. I'm never beyond that because there is nothing to do, so can't say how safe I'd feel.
I believe that during the day, downtown Rochester is as safe as anywhere within the city limits. At night, the atmosphere varies depending on where you are. My daughter’s friend was mugged last summer by three young women while she was on her way to Java's. Cars drove by but no one stopped to help her when she was screaming. Perhaps an increased police presence in the popular night spot areas would help; however, it only takes a minute for something bad to happen. I grew up in the city and frequented downtown often over the years. Nowadays unless there is an organized event happening, I avoid downtown at night; too many young people out with bad intentions and little parental supervision. Why is it that children are roaming the streets after the street lights come on? When I was growing up, the street lights meant you better be on your way home ASAP!
—LS Decker, Rochester
This all depends on what you consider "downtown." If you're talking about the East End, High Falls and the area inside the Inner Loop, Alexander/Park/NOTA and maybe the Corn Hill area, I'd say yes. If you are talking about north of downtown or areas west of downtown, I'd say definitely not. Would I go wandering around alone at night after 2 a.m.? No. Would I feel relatively safe going to a movie or a club or a restaurant with a group? Yes.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.
I work on South Avenue with a very diverse group of fellow employees. I have no hesitation about walking from work to my parking location. For the most part, I work between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Come on Rochester, what's with the paranoia?
—Wayne Donner, Rush
During the daylight, I feel very safe downtown. At night, I would feel little unsafe walking around downtown, especially if I were by myself; however, I would feel the same way in a suburban or country area at night. Actually, I would feel far more unsafe in a country area.
8/3/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.