Contact: Janine Kava, Press Office
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
(518) 457-8906 or (518) 275-5508 – cell
janine.kava@dcjs.ny.gov

For immediate release: Friday, October 29, 2010

New crime-fighting initiatives target Cortland

Police department receives $35,000 in grants to fight domestic violence, solve burglaries

Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, police departments in Auburn and Oswego also receive grants

CORTLAND – The city’s Police Department has received two grants totaling $35,000 from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to enhance the way its officers respond to domestic violence incidents and investigate burglary cases.

DCJS Acting Commissioner Sean M. Byrne today joined with Cortland Mayor Susan D. Feiszli, Police Chief F. Michael Catalano and District Attorney Mark D. Suben at City Hall to announce the grants: $25,000 to institute a program that sends officers on follow-up visits to homes where they have responded to domestic violence calls and $10,000 to collect DNA evidence at the scene of all reported burglaries.

“Domestic violence and burglary are both serial crimes that can be effectively targeted through the use of the proactive, proven strategies that will be funded through these grants,” Acting Commissioner Byrne said. “These initiatives are designed to not only solve crimes, but to prevent future victimization. Despite the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis, Governor Paterson’s administration remains committed to assisting local law enforcement agencies with their efforts to enhance the safety and security of their communities.”

Through the follow-up visit program, police officers will return to homes where they have responded to domestic incident calls, with the ultimate goals of holding offenders accountable, improving investigation and prosecution of cases as appropriate, enhancing victim safety and connecting victims with resources and services. The program is modeled after one successfully implemented by the New York City Police Department.

“With domestic violence, unlike almost every other crime, we know who the victim is going to be, who the perpetrator will be, and more likely where the crime will occur. What we don’t know is when,” Acting Commissioner Byrne said. “This grant will allow the police to proactively check to make sure victims are safe, that perpetrators are keeping their distance if an order of protection is in place and behaving appropriately if there are no orders. We want to hold offenders accountable for their behavior.”

In 2009, the Cortland Police Department reported 192 domestic-related aggravated assaults, simple assaults, sex offenses and violation of protective orders, more than half of all such incidents reported in the county (a total of 363; see data, attached).

The additional resources available through the burglary grant will allow responding officers or evidence technicians to collect DNA evidence at the scene of every reported burglary. Burglaries in Cortland increased 26 percent (86 vs. 108) from 2008 to 2009.

DNA often provides a critical link to solving those crimes, preventing additional break-ins and linking the responsible individual to other crimes. It also can clear individuals of criminal involvement in the early stages of an investigation.

Since the inception of the state’s DNA databank in 1996 through Sept. 30, 2010, at least 1,094 individuals have been convicted of burglary as a result of DNA found at the crime scene. Solving burglaries also solves other crimes: DNA given for convictions to a first-, second-, or third-degree burglary charge has resulted in links to 345 sexual assaults and 65 homicides.

Mayor Feiszli said: “Our Police Department has done an extraordinary job given the current staffing levels and struggling economic conditions we are dealing with in the city.  This initiative will provide the necessary funding to enhance the job our Police Department is doing now, in an effort to continue to provide our citizens the level of safety and quality of life we are accustomed to in the City of Cortland. The Cortland Police Department has my full support in the endeavor.”

Chief Catalano said: “Domestic violence calls consume a vast majority of our police officers time. Any reduction initiative through follow up contact to domestic violence calls, which are dangerous and many times extremely volatile, is a benefit to the police officers, the domestic violence victims and the community as a whole. The burglary DNA funding opportunity is an exciting initiative to capitalize on the forensic windfall DNA evidence has provided to law enforcement.  Through continued and improved DNA evidence collection procedures, and mandatory criminal DNA databanks, our goal is to solve more burglaries, recover more stolen property and prosecute offenders in what is typically a serial type crime in our community.”

District Attorney Suben said: “These two grants will dramatically increase the ability of law enforcement to protect the citizens of this community in two areas that directly affect the quality of life. The follow-up visit initiative, in addition, salutes the excellent work already being done in the area of domestic violence response by members of the Cortland Police Department.”

“The value of DNA evidence in solving major crimes has been show dramatically in this community, when we were able to close the robbery of our Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, by comparing DNA samples taken in connection with the robbery with DNA profiles in the state DNA databank,” District Attorney Suben added. “The robber’s DNA profile was in the databank from a prior burglary conviction. Case solved.”

A total of 18 law enforcement agencies received the one-time grants, which are funded through the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program. DCJS targeted the grants to Upstate agencies that serve smaller cities and suburban towns, as well as suburban and rural counties.

In addition to the Cortland Police, three other law enforcement agencies in the Central New York/Finger Lakes Region received grants: the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office received the $10,000 burglary investigation grant and police departments in Auburn and Oswego received the $25,000 grant to target domestic violence incidents.

A variety of criteria was used to determine which agencies would receive grants to conduct follow-up visits, including the number of domestic violence incidents, and whether they had an existing infrastructure in place, such as a dedicated officer and/or a specialized team, to adequately follow up on domestic violence incidents, and established relationships with the domestic violence services provider in their community.

Burglary grants were awarded to agencies that experienced a 15 percent or more increase in the number of reported break-ins from 2008 to 2009; the agencies receiving the grants had a minimum of 100 reported burglaries last year.

“New York State has made enormous progress in the fight against crime over the last 20 years, due in part to the smart investment of state resources at the local level, particularly in the state’s urban centers,” Acting Commissioner Byrne added. “These grants allow us to expand those partnerships to smaller jurisdictions that are wrestling with spikes in crime, with the hope that the additional assistance will allow them to successfully address crime patterns before they become crime trends.”

Tompkins County Sheriff Peter Meskill said: “We are grateful to the Division of Criminal Justice Services for proving necessary resources and training to help us reduce burglaries and better serve the residents of Tompkins County. This training will help our staff to provide professional assistance to solve crimes and respond to citizen concerns.”

The Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office saw a 35 percent increase (83 vs. 112) in reported burglaries from 2008 to 2009. For the first eight months of 2010 as compared to the same timeframe in 2009, however, burglaries are down 44 percent (65 vs. 45).

Auburn Police Chief Gary Giannotta said: “We were excited to receive the grant award from DCJS. With this award, we have assembled a team of six officers that will conduct follow-up investigations to our domestic incident complaints. We have experienced an increase in the number of domestic incidents that we investigate, but unfortunately, we are forced to just Band-Aid the problem, not fix it thoroughly. The shortages in staffing, and increased demand on officers’ time makes it difficult to really get in there and remedy the problems. With this funding, we will conduct thorough and complete investigations along with referrals to the appropriate agencies. We also envision doing multiple checks in the immediate future to ensure that offenders are no longer associating with the victims.”

In 2009, the Auburn Police Department reported 374 domestic-related aggravated assaults, simple assaults, sex offenses and violation of protective orders, 65 percent of all such incidents reported in the county. And for the first nine months of 2010, the Oswego Police Department has responded to 188 domestic-related aggravated assaults, simple assaults, sex offenses and violation of protective orders.

Oswego Police Chief Michael Dehm Jr. said: "Domestic violence is an issue that every community battles. We are pleased to be able to be a part of new initiatives, such as the home visitation program. The immediate benefit to our participation in this program is that our officers will be afforded the opportunity to gather additional information that may not have been available at the time of the initial incident, as well as providing an additional opportunity to further ensure the safety of the victim or victims in domestic violence cases."

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services (www.criminaljustice.ny.gov) is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including collection and analysis of statewide crime data; operation of the DNA databank and criminal fingerprint files; administration of federal and state criminal justice funds; support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state; and administration of the state’s Sex Offender Registry and a toll-free telephone number (1-800-262-3257) that allows anyone to research the status of an offender.