BUFFALO, N.Y. – Tuesday night was National Night Out. It is held on the first Tuesday in August every year across the country. It promotes police-community partnerships, and events were held across Western New York.
Instead of just covering what's happening at National Night Out, we are doing something different. We're looking at the event from a larger perspective.
Last week, when 2 On Your Side spoke with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, he told us, "Crime this year versus the same period last year has declined. And we are actually, when it comes to violent crime in the city, at a historic low in the City of Buffalo measuring Buffalo against Buffalo."
So, we want to verify the Mayor's claims. Is overall crime down year-to-year in the city? And, is violent crime at a historic low in Buffalo?
At National Night Out, we asked the Mayor about the comments he made to us last week.
"Since crime has been recorded statistically, in the way that it has been recorded, crime last year dropped to historic lows. Now, that doesn't mean we don't have crime, and as we always say, one homicide, one violent is one too many," Mayor Brown said.
Following Mayor Brown's statement last week, we asked the city's spokesperson for proof. He produced numbers from the nationwide Uniform Crime Reporting Program going back to 2005.
They show overall crime was down 4.5-percent year-to-year from 2015 to 2016. We checked the math, and that's correct.
The city's numbers also show violent crime dropped 28-percent from 2005, when the mayor was elected to his first term, to 2016. That math also checks out.
But we wanted to independently verify those numbers. The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services has a massive online database that provides the public with all sorts of crime statistics, including just what we were looking for. The total number of crimes reported by the Buffalo Police Department to the state in 2015 was not exactly the same, but very close (NYS reported 14,061/City of Buffalo reported 14,072).
For 2016, the numbers are also very close (NYS reported 13,456/City of Buffalo reported 13,445). Using the state's numbers, we got a drop of 4.3 percent.
So, we can verify that overall crime in Buffalo is down year-to-year.
The F.B.I. also has an extensive database of crime stats online. The state's numbers only go back ten years, so we used the F.B.I. to get violent crime numbers from 2005.
When we talk about violent crime, we're talking about four specific crimes: murder, rape, robbery, and assault.
Using the state's number from 2016, which is very close to what the city provided (NYS reported 2,857/City of Buffalo reported 2,854) and the F.B.I.'s number from 2005, which matched the city's number (3,938), we can verify that violent crime in Buffalo is down 27.5-percent since 2005.
Mayor Brown says violent crime is at historic lows. We wanted to see if we could find numbers from before 2005. The F.B.I. has it all online going back to 1995.
And in 1995, the F.B.I. says Buffalo reported 6,333 violent crimes. So, from 1995 to 2016, violent crime in Buffalo has dropped 55-percent.
Despite all of this, crime is still a problem.
"I would say that gang activity is the number one issue when it comes to homicide,” said Mayor Brown in July 2017.
Jim Heaney with our partners at Investigative Post have also reported several times about the low clearance rate for murders compared to other cities.
"In fact, I looked at more than 70 comparable municipalities to see exactly where Buffalo stands. It's clearance rate was second worst in the entire nation from 2012 through 14," said Heaney in a report from March 2017.
And The Buffalo News just reported Monday that Buffalo "had a higher rate of shootings than Chicago twice in the last six years."
So, while we can verify the Mayor is correct in his statement about lower crime rates in Buffalo on this National Night Out, there is still cause for concern.