How bad is the crime in Albany, NY (really)?
July 1, 2010 8:13 AM   Subscribe

How bad is the crime in Albany, NY (really)?

I'm asking because a coworker's daughter is thinking of going to SUNY Albany. I've been doing some research and am coming across things like this:

which seem to show the crime rate for a city under 100,000 people to be through the roof and this:

where a kid was shot for no apparent reason in the downtown area of the city where a lot of University students live.

I live in the Hudson Valley, and a lot of the towns around here, Poughkeepsie, Beacon, Newburgh, Kingston, have a lot of violent crime on paper but Poughkeepsie at least is livable whereas Newburgh really isn't. What I'm looking for is someone who is familiar with the city of Albany who can give me some insight as to whether or not living there is really as bad as the crime stats make it seem.

In other words, would YOU send your daughter to live in the city of Albany?
posted by epicdave to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My best friend went to SUNY Albany for both her BA and MA and lived there for many years afterwards. The school is enormous, with thousands and thousands of students. I've spent tons of time both at the school and in the city of Albany and never felt threatened. There are reasons not to go to college there, but I don't think the crime rate is one of them. (I also don't think Newburgh is unlivable, though, so perhaps our standards are different.)
posted by alicetiara at 8:37 AM on July 1, 2010

(I should qualify my comment -- I hadn't been to Newburgh for many years and just did some research-- looks like it's much worse than it used to be! My apologies.)
posted by alicetiara at 8:40 AM on July 1, 2010

I went to school in the Capital District around 2000. At the time, crime was not really a big enough deal for that to be a reason not to go to school up there. Like any city, there are good and bad sections, but on the whole I found SUNY Albany and the other local campuses to be pretty safe. Albany can be a great town to be in with a strong arts and music scene if you know where to look. There are also a ton of colleges in the area in addition to SUNY. Honestly, the biggest downside to the area is the harsh winters.
posted by soy_renfield at 8:56 AM on July 1, 2010

One more downside. Public transit was not great in Albany/Troy/Schenectady at the time I was there. This may have changed, but I doubt it given the state's financial crisis.
posted by soy_renfield at 8:57 AM on July 1, 2010

I'm from the Albany area and I still go back there quite a bit. I've lived in Manhattan, San Diego, and London, England as well.

Albany is guilty of a lot of things: being pretty boring and being hard to get around without a car are chief among them. But it isn't dangerous.

I had friends that went to SUNY Albany and I hung around campus a lot in the late 90s. In the 2000s, my parents moved to house near campus, so when I go back to visit I'm in that part of town a lot. I've never felt like my life was in danger there. There are neighborhoods of Albany that are a little rough, like Arbor Hill, but they aren't near the SUNY campus.

It seems like some of your concern comes from that Daily News article - you could look in any newspaper and find violent crimes happening in every town in the US. If your friend is really concerned about Albany, they should go with their daughter and have a visit. There's no substitute for seeing the place with your own eyes.
posted by CRM114 at 9:03 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a point of reference: I grew up in the Albany/Schenectady/Troy area, and we'd constantly make jokes about Poughkeepsie being the dangerous one.

The SUNY Albany is fine, crimewise, although obviously nothing is perfect.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:16 AM on July 1, 2010

Derail: What's the draw of Albany for her, as opposed to one of the other SUNYs? Is there some programmatic reason she wants to go there? Is it just that it's marginally closer to home? Is her friend or boyfriend going there? Didn't get into Binghamton?

I'd agree that paying a lot of attention to a particular high-profile random crime isn't the way to do this. If you were thinking like that a few years ago, you'd rule out UB because of the bike path rapist, even though Amherst was still at the time one of the safest places to live in the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:19 AM on July 1, 2010

This site lets you view the specific crimes that have been reported in the past 4 weeks (by one-week increments). The last time I used it I found the interface pretty counterintuitive and buggy, so you might need to use a bit of trial and error to find useful info.

I live in Albany near the student-y Lark St. (which is lined with shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants). Whenever I've looked at that map I've been somewhat alarmed to see, in any given week, that "Oh, a couple blocks away there was a burglary, and oh, just up the block there was a rape."

There's another website that shows photos and details on arrests each day in Albany, but I don't have the link now. I should be able to find it on Twitter later and add it to this thread.

My ex-girlfriend and I both feel that it's not very safe walking around Albany at night in the dark. (She's short, in her early/mid 20s, and goes to SUNY Albany; I'm 5'10", 29 years old, male.) I've sensed a general agreement on this point from other men and women I've talked with (these are 20/30-something professionals). When I used to live 2 blocks away from a supermarket and I wanted some food after, say, 10 pm, I would deliberately avoid taking the direct route down a minor street and would go several blocks out of my way in order to walk down busy, well-lit streets. My ex and I also both agree that we feel significantly safer in NYC, even in the dark late at night. (She's spent almost her whole life in Albany; I've been here for two years.) This seems to be supported by your first link. (It's noteworthy that Albany has a higher crime rate per square mile than NYC! Surely NYC has a much denser population than Albany. I don't understand the above comment that dismisses your information as isolated incidents when you're linking to statistics.) She has told me about a couple guys who followed her in their car while she was walking down the street; they tried to kidnap her, but fortunately she handled it well and also a male friend of hers happened to show up to intervene. I've also heard about a lot of verbal sexual harrassment of young women by male cab drivers.

I've definitely walked down Lark St. to see a swarming mob of 30 or 40 people beating each other up. Police were just showing up when I walked by. They may have been a big group of high-school students, but I was sure glad I wasn't right in that spot when it broke out. I've also seen a couple young people brutally punching another young person in the head, though again they seemed to be high schoolers. (Some of the attackers in both of these incidents were female, by the way.)

As general cultural background, the city is very socioeconomically stratified, and there are large areas that are very clearly "bad parts of town," where students are unlikely to go. Maybe I'm naive/sheltered, but it's been the first time in my life where I've been able to mentally divide up the town along class and race lines as if there were borderlines along specific blocks.

As to public transit, since someone else mentioned it, the city buses are pretty awful. There's a guy who regularly pees in his pants on the bus and seems to have no self-awareness about it; you can see the other passengers shifting away from him when it happens. More generally, the buses get overly crowded and rowdy. They also tend to be wildly off schedule. As for transportation in and out of the city, the Greyhound bus has generally served me well (though it was an hour late the last time I took it). Be aware that the "Albany" Amtrak station is not in Albany but across the river in Rensselaer, and the cab to get to the Amtrak station is particularly expensive.

As a side note (as long as we're talking about things that could be uncomfortable for a student), back when I didn't have a washer/dryer in my apartment, I found the laundromats often intolerable: people regularly use them as homeless shelter and smoke cigarettes in there.
posted by jejune at 9:27 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Many of my friends attend SUNY Albany and a lot of my extended family lives right in the Capitol District. It's not the gem of a capitol that New York could have, but none of my friends have expressed any concerns about crime or had any bad run-ins, and I've never had problems while in that neck of the woods myself.
posted by cvp at 9:46 AM on July 1, 2010

Anecdata: I've been to Albany about a dozen times (I lived in Troy for a couple years, and now live about an hour farther away.) I was carjacked once, and a friend of mine had his car window smashed while we were literally just around the corner walking towards his car. So in my personal experience the crime rate in Albany is approx. 17%.

Those were both in pretty grim neighborhoods near downtown, not near the SUNY campus (about which I know very little). And I'm sort of a crime magnet anyway (my record in Los Angeles was much worse.) But even with those caveats, personally I think Albany compares poorly to the many other college towns in the area -- the bad parts of town are really quite bad.
posted by ook at 9:54 AM on July 1, 2010

The SUNYA (term from back in my day) campus itself is practically in suburbia.
posted by jgirl at 10:18 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I haven't lived in albany, but my family is from the area and my sister used to live about two miles away from SUNY. The street had quite a few other SUNY students living on it and seemed representative of the general area.

I'd say it's pretty similar to downtown poughkeepsie, having lived there a couple years back. Lots of drugs, some muggings/fights, and lots of property crime. Probably has a little more gun violence than poughkeepsie, but like poughkeepsie, it's not a shot while walking down the street sort of place. But poughkeepsie can be rough as well, even in the vassar area. When I went there I knew plenty of kids who got mugged, mostly with knives.

Bottom line, if the daughter has always lived in the suburbs and never lived in a more blue-collar side of town, she's going to be in for a few surprises. If she knows or can figure out the basic "in-the-city" skills, she should be ok.
posted by yeoldefortran at 10:28 AM on July 1, 2010

I've lived here about 10 years now, and the only crime run-in I've had was a hit-and-run on my parked car by a SUNY student. For the most part, Albany is a quiet, sleepy college town. This is especially evident if you visit when college in not in session.

There are an inordinate number of bars here, and from perusing the local paper, you get the distinct impression that most of the mugging/attack/robbery crimes involve either (a) locals attacking other locals over whatever insignificant squabble they have that day, or (b) people walking home alone, drunk, at 3 AM.

As pointed out above, there are practically physical divisions between "good" and "bad" neighborhoods in the downtown/midtown areas. Then there's "uptown," which is where SUNY Albany is. "Uptown" is easily half of the square mileage of the entire city, and is very, very suburban. Albany is unique though, to the places I've lived, in that the good and bad neighborhoods are pretty radically divided. You can pick any of the "subdivisions" in your first link and see that large swaths of Albany get a crime rating of 19 (bad) and other large patches get a crime rating of 77 (safe). Drilling down into the data there shows that the crime rates in the neighborhoods where students live is almost exclusively property crime.

Midtown is where most of the heavy-student populace lives--there are good and bad neighborhoods and depending on where you live, your view of the city may be dramatically different from someone a few blocks away. You'll read about a lot of muggings, thefts, fights, etc. in this area, which are mostly isolated incidents, but also very prevalent because of the disproportionately high level of easy targets. Drunk driving is also a problem.

Center Square is generally a little expensive and out of the way for most of the area college students, but it is a busy party neighborhood. The rest of the downtown areas with heavy student rental populations mirror the problems and benefits of midtown. Having some level of "street-smarts" is a necessity here, just as it is in any other city. Then there a bunch of downtown neighborhoods where students don't live or go to socialize.

Short answer: Be pragmatic (yeah, right) about where you rent an apartment, don't stumble home alone drunk (especially don't stumble home drunk at 3 AM past my house, screeching loudly about what a jerk Jason is while your friend screeches loudly about how you could do so much better than him) and you'll be just fine.
posted by coryinabox at 11:36 AM on July 1, 2010

hiya all - thanks for all the replies!

it seems like albany is a lot like what i've heard about Troy in that being smart about your surroundings will likely keep you safe from violence, but not from petty property crime.
posted by epicdave at 4:53 PM on July 1, 2010

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