Scared of Crime in Rochester? Better Stop Driving Too.

Are you scared of the perceived crime in downtown Rochester?  Are you the individual that says “I’m not exposing my family to that!”  Let me show why that’s a flawed statement.

Let’s go to the raw numbers.  The murder rate in Rochester is about 13 per 100,000 residents (2014 statistics,  This rate has steadily decreased since the early 1990’s, but as I and so many have documented recently in our city, the fear factor of the “war zone” in our downtown area keeps many people from enjoying all we have to offer.

I will say this again and stand by it.  In the following paragraphs, am not downplaying the seriousness of the violence in our city.  We need to attack issues of poverty, crime and drug use while improving education and equal access to resources for everyone in our community.

The point of this piece is to quickly and simply show just how ridiculous it is to fear downtown Rochester’s crime rate more than other things you might do without thought of any danger.  To do this, let’s look at two very simple statistics side by side.

Your chance of being murdered in the city of Rochester: 12.8 per 100,000.

Your chance of dying in a car crash in the United States:  10.2 per 100,000

If you’re a skeptic, your likely reaction to this is “wait, this doesn’t prove Rochester is safe, I have a better chance of being murdered!”

This is true… but only a slightly better chance.  Ready for my point?

You won’t go near Rochester because you believe it’s not safe right?  And bring your kids?  No, because they might be attacked in our scary downtown.  But I bet you anything you get into your car to commute, to go to the store, to pick up the kids from soccer practice, to go on vacation or a million other reasons without thought.  I bet you’re giddy when you drive that new ride off the lot for the first time, breathing in the new Scotch Guard smell of the interior.  I’m sure you smile as you pile the family into the SUV for a trip to a far away place.  I bet you’re excited for your teen when he or she gets her license… after all, it’s a right of passage… right?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, here’s the hypocrisy… you have virtually as much of a chance to be killed in a car wreck as you do being murdered while living in Rochester.  So why oh why do you fear the city so, but you climb in your car WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT?  You speed, you eat and drive, you change the music, reach for something under your seat, maybe you even text!  You surround yourself with God knows who on the road, trusting that at 70mph, that person in the lane next to you can see you in their blindspot.  You happily and casually put yourself in danger again and again… but go into the city?  Heck no, that’s where people get killed.

But I get it.  You’re a “good driver.”  You’re in control.  These statistics don’t apply to you.

The fact is they do… when you get behind the wheel of a car you are just as susceptible to the statistics that apply to all Americans, and these statistics are just about in line with those of our “scary” “crime ridden” downtown.  The difference isn’t between a handgun and your car, the difference is between your false perception that you’re safe when driving, but not when you’re walking the streets of our fair city.  In fact, data suggests that living in a city with a medium-to-high crime rate and taking public transportation instead of driving is likely safer than living in the suburbs and commuting half an hour each way, and this data includes the differences between urban and suburban murder rates.

Still skeptical?  Maybe it’s time to revisit why.  Is it that you feel more in control on the road than in the city?  Because you’re not.  Is it because you don’t see as many auto fatalities on the news as shootings? Cuz there are about the same.  Or is it the saddest possibility of all, and the one that continues to divide this country… the fact that when you’re in a car, you don’t see skin color, you don’t see the clothes people wear or hear how they talk or carry themselves?  Is it that you’re so afraid to be around other people that don’t look, talk and think like you?

You know what’s scary to me?  It’s not downtown Rochester, nor is it driving to work.  It’s when perceptions trump logic, when stereotypes trump statistics, and when self-imposed ignorance trumps a chance to learn something new and see your city, your world in a different way.



2 thoughts on “Scared of Crime in Rochester? Better Stop Driving Too.

  1. I’m convinced people don’t like the pan handling. When people bemoan the “crime” it is actually slang for “poverty”. That’s why when you put forward these statistics nobody listens. It’s because it’s not actually addressing the point they are making. They don’t like how it feels to tell the guy on the street “no I don’t have any money for you”. Then they recall all the news stories about shootings, and on their drive back to the ‘burbs they think how lucky they were to escape alive. Because “you just know that guy is doing way worse stuff when no one is looking”, and “he’d definitely just mug you given half the chance”. The current political climate isn’t helping much either. Better to just say the crime in the city is bad and avoid it, than say the poverty makes you uneasy.

    Like you said, everybody is trained to drive so they’re numb to the risks. A deer crosses the road in front of you, and it gets your heart rate up a bit. You think “I better look harder for deer now”. Never mind that was a greater risk to actually ending your life than the guy that approaches you for pocket change after you leave a restaurant.


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