Rochester has seen mixed results in terms of progress against crime within the city. This past year actually saw an initial increase in crime, with its 51 homicides of 2020 being the highest number of homicides seen within Rochester in a single year over the past decade. According to the Rochester Police Department, 2019 saw 32 reported homicides and 2018 experienced 28 reported homicides. Not only does this suggest an increase in yearly homicides; it also reflects a significant increase in 2020, with some attempting to understand exactly what has led to this issue.
Along with the 51 homicides, there were 46 incidents reported throughout the year. Furthermore, the victimization rates were also up compared to previous years. Victimization obviously comes in many different forms, and these statistics are limited to what is reported versus what may have actually occurred. While some people could be victimized through more physical, violent crimes, others could be victimized through crimes like property damage. Indeed, property damage offenses elevate to class E felonies when they involve more than $1,000 in damages.
Additionally, one of the reported homicide victims was technically the victim of a crime that did not occur in the past year. This individual, unfortunately, was shot three years prior but did not die of his injuries until 2020. Sadly, this individual would not be the only victim of a shooting to die in Rochester that year. A report was made in October 2020 that indicated that shootings had hit highs not seen since 2012. There are many contributing factors that could have affected this return to gun violence highs in Rochester.
It is important for individuals analyzing this data to understand that 2020 was also an incredibly unique year. The COVID-19 pandemic forced more to spend time indoors and in potentially hazardous, violent circumstances. People that normally would have been more able to leave abusive households, for example, may have been too economically depressed to do so because of the financial crisis that accompanied the pandemic. Additionally, panics and political tensions surrounding the pandemic created potentially violent scenarios.
It also cannot be forgotten that 2020 saw a rise in racial tensions across the nation, including Rochester. Protests and confrontations with police created anger as well as paranoia. Some chose to arm themselves while protesting, while others were perhaps more likely to engage in arguments that would lead to violent outcomes. In general, 2020 was simply a more dangerous year for a lot of people. However, directly violent crimes were not the only types of crimes that rose within the past year in Rochester. There were slight rises in burglaries, motor vehicle thefts, and robberies.
Increases and Decreases in Rochester Crime Rates
However, despite the fact that were indeed crime increases in Rochester, the news regarding crime rates is not entirely negative. In fact, 2020 observed the implementation of a violence reduction plan put in place by the Rochester Police Department. Although the initial crime rates would indicate that this plan was not successful, a closer look at the data indicates otherwise. Compared to the crime rates reported in 2019, there has been a reduction in crime within areas targeted by the violence reduction plan. So while there was an overall increase, these more targeted, problematic areas decreased. Additionally, it should be noted that Rochester’s shooting events were punctuated by high profile, multiple victim criminal events.
The issue is that because there has been a rise in crime on a more general level, this does affect the trust that individuals have in the police department on a more general level. Therefore, some of the data that is received by the RPD could potentially be skewed by a lack of reporting. Again, this lack of trust can be connected in part to the racial tensions and protests regarding police brutality that occurred throughout the past year. As more controversies surrounding policing were revealed on a general level in the U.S., trust issues surrounding the police increased.
Unfortunately, this also means that many individuals are not able to pursue justice when they are hurt. If an incident is not immediately reported, it may be much more difficult for the victims of the crime in question to pursue justice through the police, at least not effectively. But criminal courts are not the only systems through which individuals can seek justice. They can also pursue legal recourse through civil courts. This could be an option for those in Rochester that were not necessarily about to get the justice they felt they deserved in a straightforward manner.
Seeking Justice Through Civil Courts
Most people that seek just through the civil court systems are pursuing personal injury lawsuits. In most personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff is arguing that the defendant injured them in some way, physically, financially, emotionally, professionally; there are many different avenues that personal injury lawsuits can follow. Personal injury lawsuits can also come in the form of wrongful death lawsuits. Wrongful death lawsuits are pursued on behalf of the deceased individual, usually by their next of kin or beneficiaries.
But the power of civil courts is limited in certain ways as well. For example, in Alabama, the statute of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death claims is two years. This means that if an injury or death occurred two years prior, the potential plaintiff can no longer pursue the lawsuit.
The reality, too, is that many personal injury lawsuits do not reach the trial stage, often settling out of court. The number of cases that reached the federal level, in particular, has never been significant but has declined rapidly in cent years. In 1962, 11.5% of federal civil cases went to trial; that is separate from how many simply reached the federal level in the first place. Whereas today, according to experts, only 1% of all civil cases reach the federal courts.
Not all of the issues plaguing Rochester can be solved by civil court, nor the violence reduction plans that were put forth in the past year. But ideally, the decreases in violent crime seen in some areas will spread to the rest of the city, ultimately making it safer for all.