Over the past several years, Rensselaer County, in conjunction with RPI’s campus, has seen an unprecedented decline in crime according to new data obtained by The Poly.
According to crime logs obtained from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the County’s crime index rate (per 100,000 residents) has fallen 16 percent from 3029 in 2008 to 2629 in 2015. Crime peaked in this time frame in 2010 at 3135, following the Great Recession, before falling to a record low of 2582 in 2013.
As of 2015, the crime index rate of Rensselaer County at 2629 is comparatively lower than the same figure for New York at 2872 and Albany at 2711.
RPI’s Troy campus also saw a considerable drop in crime, with on-campus burglaries falling by 50 from 2013 at eight offenses and 84 from 2014 at 25 offenses to only four offenses in 2015. In addition, there were zero reported accounts of on-campus motor vehicle theft, robbery, liquor-law arrests, or aggravated assault during 2015.
The amount of liquor law referrals, however, has increased substantially since 2013 from 50 to 188 in 2015, an increase of 276 percent. During this same period, drug law referrals also increased from 10 to 23 by 130 percent—signaling an increased level of enforcement by the Department of Public Safety. Director of Public Safety Jerry Matthews responded to this data by saying, “on my watch, I make it a point that when we have those things we report them [drug or alcohol related offenses].” In response to the uptick in offenses compared to prior years, Matthews also commented “I don’t know how much they were reported before I got here and I pay particular attention to it. I can’t say for sure. When we see it, we don’t overlook it.”
During the Fall Town Meeting, in response to a question, President Shirley Ann Jackson cited “hiring more local contractors, more safety enhancements, and students out in the city,” as reasons for declining crime figures in the City of Troy. Jackson also attributed increased enrollment as a source of economic development. Regardless of recent changes, however, in a the interview with The Poly Matthews suggested that students should still exercise regular safety precautions before traveling in Troy, saying that “There’s a very simplistic way on how not to become a victim, and it’s called a crime triangle. It’s called the target (victim) and the desire (the offender) and you have the opportunity to commit the crime. If you can eliminate any side of the triangle there is no crime.”
Matthews also noted that “the most common crime is theft of unattended property,” specifically technology such as cellular devices, gaming consoles, and laptops. “See the laptop as money on the table. It’s that easy to pick up.” Matthews also suggested that students lock their doors, even when they are in their rooms, and to not proceed anywhere they feel unsafe regardless of pressure from friends or peers. “There’s something about trusting your instincts and that goes a long way. Students frequently ask where are the crime infested areas of Troy? It’s about being aware of your surroundings and trusting your instincts. Travel with a group of people, practicing good safety sense.”
In terms of advancing public safety to respond to new threats, Matthews stated that he wants to step up patrols in busy areas and is continually pursuing new partnerships with peer institutions, local law enforcements, as well as state and federal officials.
Public Safety also currently offers the ability for students, at no cost, to have a personal security plan made. There is also a mobile phone application called RPI Guardian designed to ensure the safety of student when walking late at night. Matthews stressed the need to “see [crime] before it’s coming,” and the need for feedback from students and faculty. “That’s what helps me more than anything else and I try to get it from every direction I can.” Matthews recently met with Grand Marshal Paul Ilori ’17 and Facilities and Services Chairperson Austin Miller ’17 in order to discuss the potential for public forums in which students can meet with Public Safety and express their concerns as well as suggest new ideas on how to keep the campus community safe.