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rochester crime

Posted July 08, 2012

City of Rochester safer than suburbs

Mumford & Sons 1
As the heatwave continues across much of the nation, there has also been renewed attention on crime in the City of Rochester. The media loves to reinforce the stereotype that urban living is dangerous, but how true is that?

Rachel recently dug up some historical data on violent crime in Rochester NY. While there have been big problems over the last decade, the data shows that the city is on the mend when it comes to violent crime. Violent crime is also highly concentrated in poor neighborhoods and generally committed by someone the victim knows. But are we even asking the right question? Isn't the real issue the overall risk of death? And to answer that question you have to consider automobile fatalities in the equation.

It's a well-known fact that people have much greater fear of flying in an airplane than is warranted by the facts. As most already know, the drive to the airport is, statistically, far more dangerous than the flight. But most sweaty-palmed air travelers probably don't think twice about stepping into a car when they land. Psychologists explain this via both the 'illusion of control' and 'familiarity' phenomena. But let's be clear, the safety you feel in your car is the real illusion. Your odds of crashing on that flight to Chicago are extremely low.

Following this same thought process, I'd like to know if it's actually safer to live in the City of Rochester than the suburbs? And I mean your overall statistical chances of death - not the illusion of safety that comes from a false feeling that violent crime is far away from your home. Consider these:

  • There are far more traffic injuries each year than there are assults.
  • This report from ABC News suggests that we should be considering automobile fatalities when we consider the overall safety of a neighborhood.
  • The New York Times outlines the trade-offs between City and Suburban safety.
  • Check out this study that shows Outer suburbs are definitely more risky and inner suburbs due to automobile accidents, and that the city is possibly the safest place to live overall.

Is driving your car down 490 riskier than you think?
Violent crime is incredibly scary and will illicit a strong response, just as flying on an airplane is very unnatural and scary. A shooting at a particular location in the City of Rochester will likely drive people away from that spot for years, while a fatality on Interstate 490 barely registers for these same people. I'm trained in Psychology, I get it. But we often have to overcome the immediate cravings and easy conclusions our minds make (such as how my brain says that I should eat donuts every day because I need the calories for survival :-).

If you put emotion aside and allow your left-brain to process the numbers, it just might be that the overall level of risk of suburban living is more on par with the city when all is said is done - it just presents itself differently. To be clear, I'm not putting the suburbs down. I understand why many people live there for their amazing schools and other conveniences. However, if the risk of crime as an additional reason for selecting the suburbs over the City, they should probably reconsider after studying the numbers. Just like the airport, your drive on 490 from Pittsford to Geva Theater is far more risky than walking the streets of Rochester after dark.


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    Very interesting. Fear is a complex subject. Television amplifies the sense of frequency and severity of some types of violence while diminishing others. It's true, we have less reason to fear being in the city then driving on 490. How much does popular culture, and perhaps political motive, play in our misconceptions that the reverse is true?

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    Hi Anne... Well-put... And I don't mean to minimize the fear that people feel as I know it's very real... It just strikes me as very unbalanced that there is SOOO much fear around personal safety attributed to violent crime and so little attributed to automobile accidents when you are much more likely to be in a car accident then to be the victim of violent crime... I just think the data are interesting and people should think more about it.

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