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Karyn Bower


Karyn Bower

RIT study examines 'perception of murder' in Rochester

People in Rochester and the surrounding area tend to overestimate the number of murders that occur in the city each year; but when asked to compare Rochester to other cities, they believe their hometown is safer.

Those are the results of a recent analysis of people’s perception of the murder rate in Rochester conducted by Center for Public Initiatives at the Rochester Institute of Technology. RIT junior Karyn Bower led the study.

The report, called “Power of Perception: Beliefs about crime in Rochester,” was released this week and was based on a survey of 295 attendees at the Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival in May, and included questions regarding their perception of homicide levels.

“People view the world that they live in, particularly the urban environment, as more dangerous than it actually is, but then looking out tend to view the rest of the world as more dangerous,” said John Klofas, a professor of corrections, management, crime and violence and law and social control at RIT.

Klofas said the multitude of media outlets that expose violence — from local and national news outlets to television shows and movies — bombard people with images of murder.

“People are exposed to all kinds of fictional and nonfictional violence that I think contribute to that,” Klofas said. “Lots of our media attention is drawn to issues of violence, and one of the consequences of that is to view it as much more prevalent than it actually is.”

Some of the major findings were:

  • Most people “dramatically overestimated the number of murders occurring in Rochester.”
    -- Last year, there were 36 homicides in the city. Throwing out the largest and smallest responses (one person thought there were three homicides and another thought there were 1.5 million) the average estimate was 60 homicides per year in the Rochester.
  • Despite the tendency to overestimate the actual number of murders in Rochester, when compared to other cities, respondents incorrectly ranked Rochester much lower than the other cities.
  • Overall, people seemed to overestimate danger in their most familiar city but saw other cities as even more dangerous. “This is suggestive about both the power of perceptions about crime and the potential value of improved communication about the topic,” the paper reads.

“Understanding public perceptions of crime is important because they can exert important influences over attitudes and behaviors and have significant implications in people’s private and political lives,” the paper reads.

The study found that 36 percent of all Rochester residents thought that the city experienced more than 100 murders.

People who took the survey estimated that Rochester’s murder rate would be lower than that of other cities such as Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles, but while Rochester’s murder rate was seventh on the list of 10 cities, survey takers ranked Rochester first — or lowest — tied with Tokyo.

City Councilwoman Lovely Warren said that misperception about homicides is fueled by the high level of violence that causes murders such as shootings and stabbings.

“People hear about all the people who have been shot or stabbed and they might assume those people have died,” she said, adding that medical advancements have kept more people alive.

“But perception is reality,” she said, and if people don’t feel safe, “that is their reality.”

From his first few days in the office, Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard has made it a priority to change the perception of crime in the community, holding regular updates on declining crime statistics and conversations with community members.

Christian Isaac


Christian Isaac

MS in Criminal Justice 2011;
BS in Criminal Justice 2010

My time in the Criminal Justice MS program provided opportunities that helped shape my character and the skills I can offer.  Each professor pushes for students to build upon past research and bring new ideas forward that could be applied to benefit the surrounding community.   This program does not rely strictly on learning from a book, but actually seeing how policies are impacting the local areas and having the opportunity to personally make a difference.  Building upon my undergraduate studies, this program allowed for my knowledge to be physically applied through many community focused projects.   The amount of community interaction enhanced my ability to communicate and present ideas to any type of audience.  Such skills have become invaluable to my current work and I can apply them to any position.  This program and its professors have impacted my life, instilling a passion for improving my community and providing me with the knowledge and confidence to always strive to make a difference.

Tayler Ruggero


Tayler Ruggero

MS Criminal Justice; anticipated 2019

BS Criminal Justice and Public Policy 2018


“Through the BS/MS dual-degree program I am working to complete my MS degree with only one extra year of study. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have received from the Criminal Justice Department. I’ve been able to merge my liberal arts studies with the technical GIS field. During my freshman year I began working as a Research Assistant for the Center for Public Safety Initiatives (CPSI). This research presented the opportunity to learn Geographic Information Systems (GIS) through a collaboration with the Monroe Crime Analysis Center. I eventually added GIS as a second minor and have been able to participate in two GIS-focused study abroad opportunities. The first involved a 3-week trip to Rwanda where I worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to use GIS to map a refugee camp. The second study abroad opportunity involved a 3-month trip to Germany to use GIS for a research grant funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). I’ve had the opportunity to present my research at the Northeastern Association for Criminal Justice Sciences conference and a variety of GIS conferences.” 

Michelle Comeau


Michelle Comeau

MS Criminal Justice RIT, 2011;  
BS Criminal Justice and BS Psychology, RIT 2010

"I entered into the Criminal Justice MS program in the fall of 2009 as a member of its first cohort. Although the program has strong classes that provide a solid foundation in theory, research methods, and statistics, I believe that the program’s strongest area is in the dedication of the faculty and staff to the students. In the fall of 2010 I was not very good at public speaking; yet, during that academic year, I presented my own research to the Rochester Chief of Police, Rochester City Council, and the NYS Civil Service, and at the academic conferences for the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Faculty and staff members were integral to my growth and development as a student and researcher and more than prepared me with the skills I needed to complete my doctorate."

After graduation Michelle completed her Ph.D. from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University and is currently employed as a Program Research Specialist with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Stephanie Mackowski


Stephanie Mackowski

BS in Criminal Justice 2015

“I love the Criminal Justice department because we have a tight-knit program with exceptional faculty. Everyone is very welcoming and there is always someone around to chat with and learn from. One of my favorite experiences was the Criminal Justice Student Association field trip to the Attica Correctional Facility. It was a unique opportunity to have a tour of a maximum-security prison and learn more about prisons. It was interesting to compare our trip to Attica with what we had been learning in my Corrections class. There is always something special about seeing things you have learned in class applied to the real world.”