Rape shows uptick as other serious crimes drop in Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - With the summer festival season in full swing Buffalo Police are counting down the list of some 800 events, large and small, that bring thousands into the city.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said the city has a nearly crime free record for the big events which he credits to planning, studying trends and working with the community. Moving police power and resources where they’re needed helps too, he added.

Derenda said it’s all about, “High visibility, high saturation in some areas and working with the community.”

Like most of the country, Buffalo’s violent crime rate has been dropping in recent years.

“We’re at all time lows,” said Derenda referring to the city’s total violent crime number of 15,740 in 2013, a 7 percent drop from 2012. The so-called part 1 crimes included in the violent crime number are murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.

UntitledBut, crime remains a serious issue for Buffalo. The city ranks sixth nationally in the violent crime rate among cities its size. Buffalo’s rate is 1,289 per 100,000 population which is a way for cities of various sizes to be compared. Oakland, CA has the highest rate at 1,993 per 100,000 population.

A closer look at Buffalo’s Uniform Crime Reports data, the official count that the city sends to the FBI, reveals that while all violent crime categories are down, rape is the only one that is trending upward.

Buffalo reported 121 rapes in 2011 which inched up to 141 in 2012 and 145 in 2013.

While noting that the uptick in rape is “very serious and very sensitive,” Derenda noted that the total is still low and investigators have not come up with any explanation or trend.

“Every crime concerns me,” said Derenda.

Asked about Buffalo’s top 10 status for a violent crime rate, Derenda said he doesn’t like to look at national rankings. “We compare ourselves every year to ourselves and each and every day we try to do better than the day before,” Derenda said.

There’s another way that Buffalo Police view the uptick in reported rapes. “When we see the numbers go up we tend to view that as a positive thing,” said Lt. David Mann who heads up the Buffalo Police Sex Offense Squad.

“When we see an increase in numbers, although it can be alarming to the community, to us we see it as our coordinated efforts are working where people can feel like they can come forward, and that’s a good thing,” said Robyn Wiktorski-Reynolds, advocate program coordinator for Crisis Services which works closely with the police department by giving support to victims.

When the numbers go up, it means more people are willing to come forward and get help, officials said.  That’s especially telling for the majority of sex crime victims who are children and teenagers who are especially emotionally impacted by what’s happened.

“They have more difficulty deciding to report and navigating the system,” said Lt. Mann.  “And with the same problems, that a lot of the attackers are people that are known to them. And sometimes, unfortunately, related to them.”

The unique nature of forcible rape as a crime explains why rape has the lowest reporting rate among serious crimes, officials said.  A recent national study says fewer than 3 of 10 rapes are reported. Buffalo reported 145 in 2013.

Last week residents were alarmed at reports of three rapes in the city’s Allentown-Elmwood neighborhood.

A 17-year-old has been charged with attacking a woman walking home early on July 5.  Police are investigating his link to two other attacks on July 2 and June 29. While Lt. Mann understands the worry, he said location says little about the risk of rape.

“Most of the situations are not the woman was walking down the street alone,” said Mann.  “Most of the situations are the woman was already in contact with a person she knows on some level, and then the sexual assault occurred.”

Only 5 percent of the cases involve a random attack by a stranger on the street.

“It’s hard to commit a crime of rape and sexual assault if it’s a stranger,” said Wiktorski-Reynolds of Crisis Services.

“There’s a lot of planning and risk that’s involved. But if you have a relationship built with someone it is a little less risky because of that relationship, and allows greater access to someone.”

People should not be lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to rape or sexual assault.  “If I said, you know, if you get a gun and pepper spray and a rape whistle and you’ll be safe. I’d be lying,” Mann said.

“There are some victims who fought back against the offender and the offender ran away,” said Mann.  “There are some victims who fought back against the offender and the offender injured them or worse killed them because they resisted. And that’s why we all say if you survived the attack you did the exact right thing.”

Mann urged that the focus be on the perpetrators and stopping rape before it occurs.

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