Reflections on Friday

Posted: July 23, 2012 in Social & Economic Dynamics
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Amsterdam endured an unprecedented amount of tragic news Friday.  At the same time as we reacted with the rest of the nation to yet another senseless double-digit massacre in Colorado, we received word of tragedy closer to home; two Amsterdam teenagers shot and killed by two assailants of the same approximate age. It was one of those days that truly makes one want to utter the phrase “What’s this world coming to?”

How to help

These are the two links that were listed on the City of Amsterdam Facebook page where you can contribute to the funeral costs of each of families.

For the family of Jonathon Dejesus
For the family of Paul Damphier

I was going to hold off on blogging this week. Political commentary on any other issue would seem awfully out of touch and insensitive right now. I didn’t know the boys or the families involved but the event has saddened and affected me as it has many in the community. There are still many unanswered questions surrounding this tragedy and it’s difficult to draw any concrete conclusions as to what this means in relation to the larger issues in our city. I thought it would best to wait and reflect, giving time for emotions to settle down.

My mind changed, however, seeing that the Amsterdam Recorder had already posted a poll on their website asking “Do you think the four murders in Amsterdam so far this year are isolated incidents or is the city becoming less safe?”  (referring to both the current incident and the double homicide on Locust Ave back in March).

It seems the answer to the question “too soon?” has already been answered with a “nope”, and thus the “discussion” has already begun.  So –  I think – better to inject some perspective at this point rather than not.

In essence, the Recorder is asking us if we think these murders are indicative of a trend or not. This same question has been looked at, debated, studied, etc in different ways over the past few years whenever crime has been in the news, but yet it has never been answered definitively.  We’ve been here before folks, remember? …

http://www.vennervox.com/safe-city
http://www.vennervox.com/fighting-crime
http://www.vennervox.com/the-times-they-are-a-changin

The discussion usually consists of people citing purely anecdotal references and ends with political cat fights and good ol’ Amsterdam bashing.  Of course, the actual statistics, which is really the only rational tool we have to determine a trend, don’t seem to faze anyone, but I’ll include them for the few that are interested.

 Year

99

00

01

02

03

04

05

06

07

08

09

10

11

12

Murders

1

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

1

0

4*

Total Violent Crimes
(Murder, rape, assaults, robberies)

40

56

50

37

24

29

71

89

80

99

95

45

28

?

Source: City-Data.com, NYSDCJS
*Technically, the crime happened in the Town of Florida, so most likely, it will not officially count in Amsterdam’s statistics.

Four murders in one year is shocking, there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t see any way possible to look at these numbers and see a trend. That doesn’t mean that we’re not at the beginning of a trend, but there’s just no way to tell at this point in time. If we have a similar number of murders (God forbid) in 2013, then maybe you have an indication of a trend.

The only other way of looking at the question rationally is to look for a related motive between to the two incidents. However, the motives behind the murders this year have yet to be determined. Drugs have been mentioned in relation to both cases, but based on what I have read, nothing has been proven.  So again, there is no solid evidence for a trend here because we don’t know if the causes of the two incidents are similar.

But by all means, let’s not wait another minute to start speculating and jumping to conclusions ! Maybe the question we should be asking is who is going to be the first to try to load their political cannon by trying to spin our outrage at this incident?

I don’t think there is anyone in Amsterdam who doesn’t realize we have problems with crime in this city. I find it hard to believe that anyone would think that they are doing some sort of service to us by pointing that out anymore. Trying to label Amsterdam as “safe” or “not safe” is a ridiculous pursuit as the question is entirely relative and subjective. We’re safer than some places, not as safe as others, that’s the long and short of it. Each individual has to make their own assessment as to whether Amsterdam is safe enough for their liking.

In the meantime, there are much better and more productive questions that should be asked. Like “what can we do as a community to intervene with our youth to instill the values that make for a stable society?” or “ how can we increase the participation level and effectiveness of our Neighborhood Watch programs?”  These questions might actually have answers which could make Amsterdam a better place to live.

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Comments
  1. Rob Millan says:

    While I see this as a terrible tragedy, I still think (and I believe others would agree) that this was isolated. All indications are that this was not in fact random.

    Amsterdam, just like Anytown, USA, isn’t perfect. It is known that there are areas of illicit behavior coupled with peaks and troughs of crimes throughout, but the vast majority of Amsterdam, thankfully, is mapped with good people in good neighborhoods with good intentions, none of which fit the mold of random acts of violence.

    Tim,

    Still unclear as to why you or the Recorder staff are considering these heinous crimes as having occurred in Amsterdam. I see your question is for the purpose of identifying a trend; but to flat out admit ‘Technically, the crime happened in the Town of Florida […]’ while then including it in a statistic as having in fact occurred in Amsterdam seems a bit misleading.

    As far as the Recorder’s saying these crimes were in Amsterdam is plainly and simply irresponsible and negligent.

    • Tim Becker says:

      I think you have a point, maybe we have been too quick “own” this crime as if it reflects only on our city community. The Town of Florida has no cultural identity to speak of, so the crime gets attributed to us simply because we are more identifiable. No one cares about the crime rate in Florida, but the crime rate in Amsterdam is a sensitive issue.

      If both suspects were from the city (and found guilty), then I would say that culturally, the crime would be 100% reflective on the city regardless of where it happened. I think it’s fair to make that distinction. But one of the suspects is from the Town of Florida, the other is from Amsterdam (not clear on whether it’s city or town).

      My use of the asterisked statistic was an attempt to reflect both realities (ie cultural reflection and actual location).

      But I agree, for the Recorder to say that there have been “four murders in Amsterdam” is absolutely incorrect.

  2. The question has been adjusted to say “Amsterdam area” to satisfy the hair-splitters, smug prognosticators and whoever Mr. Millan has chosen to be this week.
    Because, you know, attacking the local paper is WAY more important than the fact that four city residents have been killed in the past few months. And because it’s easier to say “all is well, nothing to see here” than to actually face a problem.
    The FBI also urges caution when merely stating statistics in crime reports: “Each year when Crime in the United States is published, many entities—news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our Nation—use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.”
    http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/caution-against-ranking

    • Tim Becker says:

      The FBI article is referencing rankings, which are calculated by some arbitrary formula as decided on by a given organization, not necessarily raw statistical data. I think the stats provided here are far better indicators of real crime activity than Facebook posts and internet opinion polls.

      I believe facing (or rather fixing) a problem requires understanding the cultural setting from which the problem originated in. There is a big difference between the culture of the city and the culture of the Town of Florida. So I believe that correctly attributing the source of the problem is important. The Recorder has and will play an important role in how people interpret and make sense of the facts of this incident. Therefore, to what community the Recorder attributes this crime to is important, and worthy of criticism, in my opinion.

      Can you tell me who, exactly, is saying “all is well, nothing to see here.”? Are you attributing that to anyone whose opinion is that this is an isolated incident?

  3. wildthane says:

    So, Charlie, we should discount statistics? What factual measures do we then use? Push poll responses and a ouija board?

    I think Tim’s wisdom shines when pointing out the need to move past labeling the city to solving problems. This community has experienced another tragedy. We’ve endured floods, hurricanes, fires, economic decline and personal losses, but we still persist. Just as we have in the past, we pull together in faith, love and support.

    Every challenge bears gifts. I hope folks will respond to this situation by becoming involved in volunteer activities via neighborhood watch, PTA’s, church groups, mentoring organizations, sports teams, Catholic Charities, Untied Way, MCSPCA, Inman Center, OFA, HAL, the library, museum, or arts center, whatever outlet best matches one’s interest, to reinforce our ties to one another, heal, and strengthen this community.

  4. Tim Becker says:

    There’s a couple of comments I’m going to hold in moderation, simply because they are becoming increasingly inflammatory and are not covering any new ground. I think maybe we all need to realize that this is an very emotional issue, we all care deeply, we all want to do or say something to help fix things, and maybe we should just all cut each other some slack. I think the various views have been covered sufficiently. If anyone else who has not posted yet would like to comment, please feel free.

  5. diane says:

    This is a tough one. There are four families out there hurting from this crime. All four kids went to Amsterdam Public Schools, so that is another whole group of people, many of them kids who do not understand right from wrong. How do we solve it? It starts in the home with parents educating their children about right and wrong. It continues in the church and schools. I keep reading it takes a community to raise a child, but the parent/parents still has to be there.

    I think that Amsterdam is a safe place to live. We have pockets all over the city where there are problems. But masking everything with murals, flowers and web pictures of nice houses is not going to cut it. I have to agree with a friend on her post of a Boys and Girls club or something similar. Biggest problem, where is the money going to come from to run it? The Y moved out to get out of the city so how can an organization of this type survive. Parents have to give the time to help this type of organization. The kids need a place to go. By the looks of the numbers, the pool and its cost is not the issue as it is full everyday.

    I also believe that the police are doing the best they can with the information they are given. No info equals no results. The police have to be trusted once again. We do have excellent people involved in NW, but that will not solve everything. There need to be more patrols around the city, especially at night. And there needs to be neighborhood bike patrols. The parents need to see that you are out there and keeping an eye on things.

    And if we had a community center, the best place would be the church that has a playground and basketball hoops in place where the arts center is setting up. It would be a much more valuable community asset. And putting the east main street park behind it, instead of next to a liquor store would be more productive and more safe for the kids. I remember La Don from Centro Civico saying they were going to put some tables up for the card and domino players. What a good way to get kids involved in something so simple. Also non violent and it could move on to chess, which requires a lot of thought. The back is fenced in and off the main thorough fare. I have brought this up twice to city council and it fell on deaf ears. We have random parks around the city, but this would be a community center than can be walked to and used by many. They have not started construction on the project yet, though remediation has been done. They could easily flip the layout and fit it to the back of the church property. In the long run, it would pay off in a various positive ways. Something to think about………..

  6. Please feel free to dismiss or spin the following. Everything here is based on the numbers provided in Tim’s initial post:
    DATA: http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ny/amsterdam/crime/#data
    ANALYSIS: http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ny/amsterdam/crime/#description

    • Tim Becker says:

      Charlie, the “crime index” that they indicate is *exactly* what the FBI was talking about in the link you posted earlier. They take the stats then run it through some magic formula and come up with some sort of number and include some automatically generated “analysis” that is supposed to be meaningful.

      But let’s say for the sake of argument that the index of “20/100” that they give Amsterdam is somehow accurate. Did you try plugging in some of the surrounding communities to see what their scores were? I did, check it out…

      Saratoga Springs – 29
      Ballston Spa – 24
      Amsterdam – 20
      Johnstown – 16
      Gloversville, – 9
      Schenectady – 4

      (The higher the number, the safer the area)

      Wow! Looks pretty good for Amsterdam, doesn’t it? 🙂

      FYI, I tried searching on Broadalbin, but it wants me to pay $120 to get that info.

      Still think this site is legit?

      I dunno, Charlie, if you honestly think that there are certain people out there who are oblivious to the crime problems in Amsterdam, well then more power to you. To me, it comes across like you are doggedly pursuing the application of some sort of stigma to Amsterdam, and I honestly don’t understand why. Perhaps you could explain who exactly you are trying to convince and what you think needs to done differently. Is it the Mayor? If so, I think we’ve already been there.

      Most people I’ve talked to are well aware of the crime problems that are out there. I’ve spent three years on Neighborhood Watch with a small but dedicated group of people who are actually trying to do something about the problem. What do you propose, Charlie?

      • wildthane says:

        Tim’s thoughtful response rings the bell. We’re all well aware of crime activity here. This knowledge is precisely why we tried to start a community center on the Bacon Campus (I would hope that this may still be an option that the GASD may consider.) It’s why we formed the neighborhood watch groups and are trying to grow participation. It’s why we are sponsoring National Night Out on August 7th at Veteran’s Field and hope to offer a three-day basketball workshop for 80 kids on August 13th at the basketball courts. It’s why we voluntarily paint out graffiti and hold city-wide clean ups. As a small municipality with limited resources, our beautiful pool is available for $3 a day and we just completed teaching 200 disadvantaged youth how to swim for free. The Arts Center will host classes in the near future and the recreation department actively supports and promotes sports opportunities for children of all ages, year around.

        If city-sponsored offerings or police presence (a la bike patrols, walked beats, or car surveillance) are increased, there will be an increase in corresponding cost. I don’t hear that addressed when ideas are bandied about.

        Government will never be the answer to all of the challenges that present in a small city like Amsterdam, but we are willing to act on suggestions as to how we may improve our performance. Negatively labeling the community and debating back and forth as to the merits of statistical data (I have trouble determining whether Charlie is pro or con) only dilutes our power and focus. We must act compassionately and comprehensively as an entire community, with all stakeholders at the table, to effectively respond to the needs of our resident families.

  7. I wish someone would point to specific instances where I’ve negatively labeled this community, or how some poll that doesn’t ask if Amsterdam is good or bad is labeling the community as being good or bad.

    I would also like to know where I’ve specifically said there is no merit to statistical data. I didn’t realize pointing out that context and insight into the numbers is as important as the raw figures meant I’m opposed to statistics.

    If there’s some sort of insinuation that I’m being negative about the community overall, y’all need to go back and read the multitude of columns I’ve written and the countless posts made when I hosted the Venner Vox. Or the various ways I’ve tried to help promote the many positive aspects of Amsterdam and/or promote the many positive efforts made to improve Amsterdam.

    • flippinamsterdam says:

      Tim,

      Great post.

      A few thoughts in no particular order:
      — A Web-based poll on this subject, or almost any subject, is utterly meaningless statistically speaking.
      — By altering the original poll question, the meaningless poll becomes –whatever word means ‘less than meaningless’ — as the responses reflect two wholly different questions.
      — It does matter that the question asked was specific to the “city of Amsterdam”. Phrasing of questions is crucial to poll integrity so I think a critique of the poll is wholly justified and warranted. I think a sticking point here may deal with whether there was intent to cast the city in a less favorable light.

      I don’t believe Charlie intends to malign the city; however, I do believe his responses here make him susceptible to the charge. First, defending the poll by calling its critics “hair-splitters, smug prognosticators” falls far short of a reasoned response to valid criticism of the poll. I don’t think it’s hair-splitting to challenge attribution of a crime to the city when the crime did not occur in the city. That’s not hair-splitting, that’s a simple statement of fact as a counterpoint. Second, the statistics cited by Charlie for us to “dismiss and spin” misrepresent the definition of Amsterdam whether you are talking about the city, the town or the collective area. Specifically, the statistics define Amsterdam as the following zip codes: 12070, 12010, 12066, 12086, 12019, 12072, 12166, 12027, 12020, 12137.

      Maybe I’m just a spinner but I don’t consider Pattersonville(12137) or Galway(12086) to be ‘Amsterdam’ for purposes of this discourse or the broadly accepted definition of Amsterdam when it comes to political or policy discussions. You can’t have it both ways here with a conveniently suited definition of Amsterdam as the city, or the city and town, or as some other arbitrary construct to justify your position.

      Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is a larger discussion here dealing with the perception of Amsterdam, and let me be precise– the City of Amsterdam. It’s no secret that we have wholesale industries bent on disparaging the city, often with misinformation and falsehoods . No rational person denies the existence of crime or the two murders in the city—those are immutable facts; however, as Tim tries to point out, it’s hard to find a rational basis to claim that there is a trend — the data simply do not support that claim. As of now, it looks like an exception but only time will tell if a broader trend is at play. We simply can’t assert today that it is a trend.

      What matters is whether perceptions stand up to scrutiny, as perceptions , like it or not, tend to shape decision making. Here’s why it matters: if indeed violent crime in the city is trending upward, does that not have implications in terms of policing , in terms of budgets, in terms of quality of life? And if crime is indeed trending upward in the towns, does that not likewise have implications for decision making?

      I think Tim is right to delve into this issue as I like to think that we actually approach complex problems with some measure of clarity, rationality and intelligence versus its opposite. Maybe the best way to illustrate the point is with a new poll with a slightly different question:
      Do you think the two murders in the Town of Florida so far this year are isolated incidents or is the town becoming less safe?

      My perception-ometer tells me that that question will not be hitting the coffee shops or the airwaves any time soon. So my question is: “Why not?”

  8. Tim Becker says:

    Thanks Flip for your excellent analysis. I was hoping you would weigh in on this.

    With that, I will be closing the comments on this thread. It’s been very challenging to moderate this, to say the least. Thank you to everyone who has participated.