Charlie's Angle: Nothing to see here?

When word first reached the newsroom about a drive-by shooting in Amsterdam, several of us sarcastically responded "but I thought the city doesn't have a crime problem." After all, isn't that what we're told every time crime rears its ugly head in this town?

You know, like when a group of miscreants tagged the Route 30 bridge with racist messages and sexually explicit images, and then we found out they went on a spree, tagging vehicles in the parking garage at the Riverfront Center. Or, when two people were stabbed to death on Locust Avenue. Or, when two teenagers were taken from Amsterdam and shot to death just outside the city. Or, when a guy is accused of opening fire from his car into a group of people on Union Street, and witnesses actually tell cops that return shots may have been fired.

Or, when an officer from the Amsterdam Police Department publicly acknowledges there's a gang "issue" in town during a crime forum in the 4th Ward.

Nope, nothing to see here. Move along.

It would be foolish to brand Amsterdam as a crime-ridden city where no one is safe, regardless of where they are. The numbers don't indicate that; in fact, "official" statistics show that Amsterdam, like most of the rest of the nation, has actually seen a drop in violent crime.

The city is also blessed with lots of nice neighborhoods where one doesn't have worry about getting shot or stabbed, but there are plenty of places where that's not the case. It's not a situation unique to Amsterdam; the same conditions exist in lots of places.

The thing is, two double homicides and a drive-by shooting in the span of six months isn't supposed to happen in cities of 18,000 people. Thankfully, it's not the norm, but the fact remains that people's lives are being put in danger. The issue isn't always about the number of crimes being reported; the issue is the kinds of crimes taking place and what kind of criminal element exists in town.

It's not the city's fault these violent criminal acts are happening, nor does any one set of racial or socio-economic subgroup own all the crime taking place in Amsterdam. But to downplay each incident and dismiss them as isolated and not being indicative of a larger issue exacerbates the problem.

If Amsterdam really doesn't have a problem, then why all the increased crime prevention efforts? For the past couple of years, the city has been pushing hard for more community involvement in the Neighborhood Watch program; which, to this point, save for a couple of hiccups and the normal growing pains associated with any start-up effort, has been a huge success here.

I've talked with organizers and leaders of the watch groups, and they've spelled out for me specific instances where watch activity has actually stopped problems from becoming worse or from happening in the first place. I'm not going to list those specifics because I certainly don't want anyone targeted for retaliation, but I can tell you with confidence that the watch program is working.

The city is also in the process of installing cameras in areas known to cause problems, which will hopefully deter more crime in the future. However, would the cameras be necessary if there wasn't anything to keep an eye on?

A major part of the problem is people who are often loudest on the subject of crime take it to the extreme. On one hand, you have a group of individuals who try to paint Amsterdam as being the second coming of Compton. On the other, you have people who will say that Amsterdam is the loveliest place on earth where everyone holds hands and sings the theme song from "Barney."

It would be nice if someone (beyond loud-mouthed pundits like myself) would stand up and scream, "What the [insert whatever you want]" and acknowledge that four brutal murders and a drive-by shooting (thank God no one was hurt) in a small city like Amsterdam aren't supposed to happen -- that there's clearly a problem, and then do something about it.

The fact that there's so much outrage when crimes like this happen is a good sign for the city because when people stop reacting, it's a signal that things are getting really bad. Thankfully, Amsterdam isn't at that point yet.

Just don't tell me there's no crime problem in Amsterdam, and don't tell me these are simply isolated incidents. I'm not buying it any longer, and neither should anyone else.

CHARLIE KRAEBEL is the

Recorder editor who doesn't

do the crime because he doesn't

want to do the time. Contact him

at ckraebel@recordernews.com.