In a year of notable local news stories, one stood out: the continuing wave of homicides.
In a new poll of Rochester Beacon readers, roughly half of respondents said Rochester’s per-capita homicide rate—highest in New York and near the top among cities nationwide—was the No. 1 news story in terms of its impact on the Rochester community and longer-term significance. No other story was named by even 10 percent of the poll participants.
The Beacon reported in February that Rochester’s per-capita homicide in 2021 was highest statewide and higher than the rates in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and other big U.S. cities. Research by Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Public Safety Initiatives shows that Rochester’s per-capita homicide rate also was rising rapidly. Since 2019, it climbed from 14th to fifth in 2021 in CPSI’s study.
The rise in Rochester’s per-capita rate is linked directly to a sharp increase in the total number of homicides, which hit a record high of 80 in 2021, up from 50 in 2020 and 32 in 2019.
The wave of killing continued this year. In the first half of 2022, the Beacon reported in July, there were 28 victims of homicide by firearm—the highest total in more than two decades. The percentage of homicides by firearm also was higher than in previous years. To date, the Rochester Police Department has recorded 76 homicide victims this year.
The homicide crisis prompted Rochester Mayor Malik Evans to take a number of steps to try to stem the tide. Among them: declaring a gun violence state of emergency and filing a lawsuit seeking to recover damages from firearms companies over crimes and violence linked to illegal guns.
“Every culture may be measured on its respect for human life. Each murder in Rochester devastates a family and a community; as they pile up, we risk becoming used to the unthinkable,” Beacon reader Dave Smith says.
“The tragic murder rate not only affects individuals killed or injured, but affects their families, neighborhoods and community overall,” Loret Steinberg says. “It creates a general fear in people who live and work in the neighborhoods and greater community and harms the city’s reputation.”
For James R. Yarrington, “it is hard to celebrate the many positive developments in our city and region when violence and killings are spiraling higher. It eclipses the problems with the City School District. Somehow, it must be addressed successfully if the community is to truly move forward.”
The No. 2 story among readers who took part in the poll was the announcement of a public-private partnership with Micron Technology to build a $100 billion semiconductor manufacturing campus in Onondaga County. It was selected by 8 percent.
Debbie Tretter picked this story because “it is such a huge and exciting investment in our region that can impact so many other local organizations.”
Frederick Iekel agreed. “The infusion of that amount of investment dollars combined with the importance of returning 21st century manufacturing to the United States (and in particular) locally is a major plus for Western New York,” he says.
Rounding out the top five were these stories: Gov. Kathy Hochul earmarking $100 million for the Inner Loop North project; Strong Memorial Hospital’s announcement of a $641 million expansion plan; and the city of Rochester agreement to a $12 million settlement with Daniel Prude’s family.
The Beacon poll also asked readers to pick the most important issue for the Rochester area today. Once again, crime/violence ranked first by a wide margin, with 35 percent selecting it. Equality/inequality was second, at 16 percent, followed closely by education at 15 percent. For a number of readers, all of these issues are linked.
“Crime/violence is the outcome making it the most important immediate issue, but several others are ongoing contributing causes including jobs, education, equality/inequality, racism/racial issues,” observes Gene DePrez.
“Crime/violence, education, and racism/racial issues would be my top 3,” says Mary Holleran. “But the increasing number of shooting deaths, particularly of young people, has created an epidemic that must be dealt with first before we can address the other pressing issues.”
For Calvin Eaton, “(equality/inequality) serves as the root of all the other issues.”
Also among the top five issues were the economy (including jobs) and racism/racial issues.
Geoff Rosenberger picked the economy, saying that “while it is national as opposed to local in scope, our nation’s chronic deficit spending and ever-growing national debt will impact every corner of the country.”
More than 140 readers took part in the poll, which was conducted Dec. 19-21. The following are the complete signed written responses of participants. Many additional unsigned responses were submitted. As a matter of policy, the Beacon does not post unsigned comments.
Why did you choose this story as the top local news story of 2022?
The tragic murder rate not only affects individuals killed or injured, but affects their families, neighborhoods and community overall. It creates a general fear in people who live and work in the neighborhoods and greater community and harms the city’s reputation. Rochester needs so many things, but this keeps people and businesses away. We have a fine city and most people are safe; the violence and drugs in some neighborhoods should not be ignored.
Every culture may be measured on its respect for human life. Each murder in Rochester devastates a family and a community; as they pile up, we risk becoming used to the unthinkable.
Fear keeps Monroe County residents from the city. Families with a choice choose suburbs for school, work, entertainment. Our county will remain divided until people find the city provides safe and accessible opportunities. Like a riot, crime is the voice of the unheard, to paraphrase MLK. Poverty and poor education limit choices and perpetuate desperate crimes. Consequently, Rochester needs to revamp RPD and overhaul RCSD. However exciting NYS grants to Rochester for urban development, crime stymies Rochester.
—Melissa Corcoran Hopkins
My family was part of it. [The culture wars at Aquinas Institute]
Because the crime in this city has gotten out of hand. Every day there are shots fired, gun violence, deaths by bullet. I love this city but the crime has to stop.
Top employer growth indicates even more jobs, plus a needed expansion. [Strong Memorial Hospital announces a $641 million expansion plan]
It’s most on my mind despite all the positive stories you offered. [Rochester’s homicide rate]
The continued problem of so many deaths in our community must be faced and addressed by all sectors in the community.
It is hard to celebrate the many positive developments in our city and region when violence and killings are spiraling higher. It eclipses the problems with the City School District. Somehow, it must be addressed successfully if the community is to truly move forward.
—James R. Yarrington
This moves forward in a major way a significant transformational project to reunite neighborhoods and create new redevelopment opportunities in housing and small business. [Inner Loop North project]
This (Inner Loop North) project has the potential to bring back a neighborhood that had literally been torn apart by construction of the Inner Loop and connect it once again to downtown. The hope for this redevelopment is that it also will provide a host of economic opportunities for those who have lived there.
Killings in Rochester are out of control. The killing and wounding of a Rochester police officer and his partner by an out-of-town hired gun over a marijuana territory dispute and the killing of a child sleeping in his car seat indicate no fear of consequences for the killer’s actions. This mayhem could be the unintended consequence of well-intended but flawed prison reformers. The violence creates a false impression about Rochester and all the positive efforts to make our community a place where people and businesses want to relocate. The impact ripples like a tidal wave of fear across our entire community and overshadow all the other stories on your list. Tragically, I don’t hold out much hope that all the funding and traditional community-based remedies being funded will have any impact. Like wildfire, this plague has to run out of momentum before we can once again have peace and prosperity. Further, our chronically understaffed law enforcement community is tasked with unrealistic expectations and hostile community activists in some quarters of the city. In the coming year, all of us must fight for balance, especially our elected officials, who should work on behalf of the majority of citizens as they are sworn to do rather than serve either personal or political agendas. While it appears that the murders are somewhat isolated to the boundaries of just a few neighborhoods, as we saw last week with a killing on Illinois Street, no community can escape violence. What do your readers think would happen if the level of violence suddenly slipped into Pittsford, Penfield, or Webster?
The killing of more and more people signals severe problems in our city, with no end in sight. Politicians and others say, “Enough is enough,” but what can be done to stop the violence? There is no quick solution. Education, economic security and, somehow, developing a unity of spirit over time would help, along with turning back to God.
This permeated and served as a theme for the entire year for me. [The COVID pandemic recedes as a public health crisis]
I do not believe you wrote about the top story. Update to 2017 Stanford study – RCSD dead last in math and ELA growth – did not include Rochester – we sent in garbled data.
The most impactful story for the region. [Rochester’s homicide rate]
Because it is such a huge and exciting investment in our region that can impact so many other local organizations. [The public-private partnership with Micron Technology]
Social and environmental justice, at last, for that neighborhood. [Inner Loop North project]
—Peter H Van Demark
I chose the Rochester homicides per capita are the highest in New York state. These murders should be considered a public health crisis, and we must NOT normalize the rate or even become numb to the problem. This is not normal, and the root of the problem, such as poverty, needs further examination to see what role it plays. All hands on deck are needed to help curve the violence in the community.
The infusion of that amount of investment dollars combined with the importance of returning 21st century manufacturing to the United States (and in particular) locally is a major plus for Western New York. [The public-private partnership with Micron Technology]
Economic impact for Upstate NY. [The public-private partnership with Micron Technology]
Because poverty and overall human welfare are our community’s largest and hardest problems. [Rochester’s homicide rate]
The Micron announcement was the first major manufacturing job growth announcement in Central or Western NY in quite some time. Upstate cities are still feeling the effects of job losses at legacy companies. Much of the job growth in Rochester outside of the medical field has been with lower wage jobs such as call centers, service, and retail/hospitality. One caveat is that the announcement in Syracuse has been overhyped by many. The first phase will hire about 3,000 people, which is a large number of jobs, but it is less than the number of manufacturing jobs that have been lost in recent decades. The estimate of jobs that would be created by vendors and supplies is exactly that — an estimate. And it is far from guaranteed that most supplier jobs would be in the area. The hype around this announcement is reminiscent of the hype that surrounded the selection of Rochester as the location of the AIM Integrated Photonics facility. Local leaders tossed around wild estimates of 20,000 jobs, but in reality it has only generated about 50 jobs. The Syracuse announcement is very good news, but our local leaders need to be face up to the reality that we have a long, long way to go to bring jobs back to our region.
With all the crazy and negative news out there, I chose the Golisano Institute for Business and Entrepreneurship as the top story. I like to focus on things that move the community forward and an affordable post-high school education in business, created by one of our local business legends is an exciting move forward!
The two things that are holding back the Rochester economy most are urban violence and the underperformance of the city schools. These are related as both grew out of systemic racism. Rochester will never thrive until the urban underclass is better integrated into the mainstream economy and society. How to do that is the challenge of our age, but gets much less attention than many short-term developments.
Gun violence and murder is indicative of social equity issues like poverty, hunger, homelessness, joblessness and lack of opportunity that urgently need the public to come together to address, even nationally.
Strong Hospital is a leader in research and health care in our area. The expansion will bring economic benefit to our region and will further solidify Rochester as growing area.
—Amy J. Considine, Ed.D.
I think the Golisano Institute has the biggest long term impact on the Rochester region.
I chose your diocesan coverage as top story because it was not well thoroughly covered elsewhere. You helped readers understand the legal issues and informed Catholics like myself of details and perspectives we would not otherwise have learned.
Rochester Diocese sexual abuse settlement, an abomination to God and the measly $55 million settlement a disgrace.
Rochester’s leaders were not able to convince companies that doing business in the city makes sense. [Poverty continues to deepen as Rochester fails to attract good jobs]
This issue was complex, and revealed many of the tensions, misconceptions, and disparities between the city and the surrounding suburbs. I believe that dynamic deserves more in-depth, honest analysis. [Monroe County redistricting is embroiled in controversy]
The crime, along with the generational poverty, the drugs, the teenage pregnancy and all the woes of the city of Rochester are the result of an educational system … again the system, which has not been able or worse doesn’t seem to care about giving our youth, their youth, a relevant education. It’s not the teachers, not even the students, it’s the system. ALL kids …. ALL kids have innate skills and or gifts. The mission of the RCSD ought to be one that helps kids identify those innate skills/gifts. They have failed for decades…decades! That translates into dropping out of school and for those who survive the K-12 journey most are ill-prepared for their journey beyond K-12. We need to show kids professions and careers in that journey. We need to show them that the boring academics are connected with those professions and careers. We need to answer the number one question by drop-outs, “what do I need this s— for anyway?’. Answer that question! Here is the interesting and eye opening closing to my plea for educating our youth … most of the other issues of choice you have listed, which are from new businesses opening to new institutes of learning to redistricting, have the root problem…..in education. Kids that fail to graduate or have a poor education cannot continue their education journey, nor can they take advantage of the many jobs that are created, nor can they escape their surroundings resulting in the need for redistricting. If kids are shown careers and or professions they will graduate with opportunity. Opportunity to gain a profession or career.
—Josh Jochem Porte
We continue to evolve as a high-tech region. Most companies employ less than 100 workers, so there is activity in many sectors. Bottom line: We have a more diverse economy than a generation ago, but we must continue to work hard at it with training and education for all.
—Bob Finnerty, RIT
I chose “Sabrina LaMar becomes Monroe County Legislature president after joining the Republican Caucus” because it is connected to 2 other long running disputes in the Monroe County legislature that have yet to be resolved: Monroe County redistricting and a new public defender. Underneath these is the inability of the county (and Monroe County) to face the history, and continuing manifestations, of structural racism in our community. I believe we need some local process like the Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation or we will continue to act from a place of scarcity and fear. This merely divides us and allows those with economic and political power to keep going on.
—Barbara Van Kerkhove
Story that could have flown under the radar. [The culture war at Aquinas Institute]
Homicides concentrated in low income neighborhoods further divide Rochester from the other Monroe County towns and surrounding counties. The city, etc. must deal with the immediate and longer-term causes.
Golisano has the financial depth to be a disrupter in any industry. In creating a college focused on business and entrepreneurship, he has set the stage for major disruption in high ereducation. An intense focus over a two-year period as an alternative to four (or five) college degrees may be just what the market is looking for. A shrinking college-age population needs an efficient, less-costly way to bring value to the workforce, and Golisano’s approach may be just what is needed.
Technology is the key to the long-term growth of the Rochester economy. [The UR Laser Lab begins work on a $42 million expansion]
Why did you choose this as the most important issue for the Rochester area today?
Having to pick a single issue is “nonsense.” So many of these issues are interrelated and connected that picking just one denies the complexity of the situation. I only choose the crime/violence issue because of the meaningless loss of life that it has caused. However, it is but a symptom of the social justice issues affecting our community.
—Stephen L. Gaudioso
Without quality education, our children have no reasonable options for their future. Our school administration and school board have been dysfunctional for some time now.
The causes of crime and violence are complex; solutions seem to be even more so, but perhaps the simple answers might be most effective. I believe that peace on earth, goodwill to people, is possible when hearts are changed by God.
Rochester residents need an education that prepares them for a productive life.
—Melissa Corcoran Hopkins
WOKE is what is the downfall in our schools today.
Violence is a huge issue in Rochester. There must be a way to stop young people from getting guns.
I chose crime/homicides because it seems as though every day there is a new one. If we can’t get that under control, companies will have 2nd thoughts about coming here and our economy will suffer.
Summed up in my comments above.
—James R. Yarrington
Crime/violence is the outcome making it the most important immediate issue, but several others are ongoing contributing causes including jobs, education, equality/inequality, racism/racial issues.
Crime/violence, education, and racism/racial issues would be my top 3. But the increasing number of shooting deaths, particularly of young people, has created an epidemic that must be dealt with first before we can address the other pressing issues.
Education is the foundation upon all the other issues rest. We must have a well-educated citizenry to take effective action on any other challenges. It’s not just our current failures. We now suffer the consequences of decades of a poorly managed education system. It’s not just a local problem. The State Education Department must redesign curricula based on meeting our students where there are culturally and socially. The other side of the equation that holds as much weight, if not more than education, is students’ home environments and the willingness and ability of caregivers and parents to support educators’ efforts. We have a mindset of malaise and fatalism in our community that needs to be broken. We wallow in our failure and have not been able to find or choose effective leaders that can move us forward. We need the courage to banish the status quo and find leaders with vision and the skill to articulate and motivate all citizens to join in our community’s resurrection. If we believe we can, we will.
Any of the above could be considered the most important. Can we ever overcome hatred and racism?
(Equality/inequality) serves as the root of all the other issues.
I chose inequality as the area’s most pressing issue because the racial segregation separating city and suburbs is at the root of our most intractable problems—concentrated poverty, poor outcomes for students in city schools, high crime in some neighborhoods and demographic groups. In the decades since the end of much overt racial discrimination, a deeply entrenched and self-reinforcing pattern of white flight to the suburbs has perpetuated all the bad results of the old “separate but equal” system.
If this (crime/violence) does not change, jobs and then the population will flee.
Extreme poverty is often the root of the other issues plaguing our city.
Rochester has a lot of work to do to be a great place for all to live and work. [Equality/inequality]
—Peter H VanDemark
I chose housing because I see a huge shift away from affordable, quality housing for lower-income households. The rents are higher, and many can’t afford to live in decent housing. Waitlists are years long, and many can’t afford the available housing that exists in the Rochester community.
Crime and violence seem to come and go, in our fair city, in waves. I believe that, if we can contain the drug trafficking, we will make our streets and urban homes safer and give our young people a chance to focus on more positive forces.
(Crime/violence) has such huge impact socially and economically.
Health insurance is unaffordable. We have overcrowded emergency rooms. This creates worsening conditions of already sick patients. There are fewer specialists in the area with an average wait time of 8-10 weeks for a new patient appointment to see a specialist, not enough Primary Care/Internists, and the art of medicine has been taken over by a monopoly as a business rather than a needed service to the people. Docs have become cogs in an inefficient, but expensive machine. Nurses and providers are underpaid and overworked. Health care became the new Kodak of Rochester (meaning industry) and rather than taking care of the community they serve – they have put too much money and emphasis on the business aspect and not enough time and effort into the caring aspect. RRH & URMC could learn a lot from the old Kodak business model in terms of how to treat their employees and properly serve their community.
Rochester’s lackluster economy effects many of our other problems. The city of Rochester has lost tens of thousands of jobs. While there has been replacement job growth outside of the city, much of that is outside of the effective reach of public transit. As a result, the lack of accessible jobs is a major part our grinding poverty problem. Our poverty problem in turn affects problems with crime, schools, and inequity. Another major problem with the shifts in the local jobs market is that we have lost a huge number of good-paying jobs, while much of the replacement job growth has been in lower-paying jobs. We can’t lift people out of poverty with jobs that pay poverty-level wages.
Does a child in a low-income city household have the same opportunity to thrive as a child in Brighton or Pittsford? Of course not! For the Rochester area to thrive, we need to do more to equalize these opportunities so that all citizens can develop to their potential, for their own benefit and that of society.
Inflation is crippling the growth of both our local and national economy. This impacts everyone in the region.
If there are good jobs available, especially for those without a college degree, the city can start rebuilding. It will take hope and the confidence that comes from meaningful work to revitalize neighborhoods, strengthen schools, and reduce crime.
Economy: While it is national as opposed to local in scope, our nation’s chronic deficit spending and ever-growing national debt will impact every corner of the country.
I have written about education, the value and the need in the Beacon as often as I could. It was actually easy, for all of our concerns, problems and woes are connected to this failure to educate. If the county schools can-do, if they can educate….so can the RCSD. Listening, RCSD School Board?!
—Josh Jochem Porte
Economy/jobs: Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. We continue to evolve as a high-tech region. Most companies employ less than 100 workers, so there is activity in many sectors. Bottom line: We have a more diverse economy than a generation ago, but we must continue to work hard at it with training and education for all.
—Bob Finnerty, RIT
If we don’t address climate change through a racial justice/racial equity lens, then we won’t get to net zero by 2050 and those at the margins, disproportionately Black and Brown families, will be most harmed by the impacts of climate change.
—Barbara Van Kerkhove
Climate change — dealing with it, climate refugees both rich and poor, developing green jobs, etc. Will impact all the other issues.
Same reason as noted for question 2.
The economic foundation of our city is undermined by fear of walking the streets.
Education at all levels is necessary to build the workforce and healthy civic participation for the future.