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Franklin County officials detail changing face of crime

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MALONE - Franklin County’s top prosecutor says violent crime rates in the county dropped over the past decade during a presentation on the changing nature of crime in the region given by area law enforcement officials to the Malone Rotary Club.

Although some at the meeting believed things are getting worse, District Attorney Derek Champagne said reality is the exact opposite – Franklin County was the 14th most violent in New York state in 2001 and in 2011 had slid to the 46th most violent.

“Or to put it in more positive terms, the 16th safest,” he added.

Mr. Champagne explained that in that time period law enforcement agencies teamed up and targeted what he referred to as “the 20 people that [were] easily causing 80 percent of the crime.” He said the idea was modeled after an approach that New York City officials had taken in previous years.

In addition to police efforts, he said he feels the 900 jobs the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino brought to the area has helped steer some away from criminal behavior.

“Eight or 10 years ago it wasn’t a big deal to have three or four kidnappings and three or four [drug-related robberies] ... per year,” according to Mr. Champagne. “People who are working commit less crime.”

As far as homicides go, Franklin County is about on par with the national average, Mr. Champagne said. He explained that nationwide about one homicide takes place annual for about every 50,000 people.

“Franklin County has a population of 50,000,” he said.

On the drug front, Mr. Champagne, Malone Village Police Chief Christopher Premo and state police Sgt. Audra Parent, Malone station commander, all said the area has seen an influx of prescription painkillers and heroin.

“Cocaine used to be very prevalent. Now [heroin]’s replaced it,” Mr. Champagne said.

Chief Premo said he believes the shift is because heroin is a cheaper alternative, albeit far more addictive. He pointed to a case where a man recently presented himself at Alice Hyde Medical Center with what he claimed was a dog bite on his arm, but it was actually a spot where he had been shooting heroin into the same vein over and over again and became infected.

Mr. Champagne said most of the heroin is brought to the area by people from other places, such as Syracuse, Albany, and New York City and sold for more than twice the profit. He believes they became enticed after the Rockefeller Laws were repealed in 2009 – a dealer bringing drugs for sale across the state could have faced up to 25 years in prison, the new statutes call for a maximum of 9 years.

Methamphetamine cases have seen a dramatic rise in neighboring Clinton County, but Franklin County has thus far only encountered “sporadic incidents” involving the drug, Mr. Champagne said. He believes the reason for the number of incidents on the other side of the county line is because one individual came from the south, where the drug is prevalent, and brought with him knowledge of meth-making.

“That person taught 10 people and those people taught 10 people,” Mr. Champagne said, adding that area law enforcement officials are taking “proactive measures” to ensure the drug does not take off in Franklin County.

Alongside lower violent crime rates and higher instances of heroin are increased mental health cases, where an offender is not suited for incarceration but should not be released back into society.

Mr. Champagne cited the 2010 case of Michael Nelson, who barricaded himself inside a camp in Brandon and got into a lengthy armed stand-off with state troopers.

“He was shooting at state police while he was on the phone with state police asking when they were going to get there because he was surrounded by the Spanish Armada,” Mr. Champagne said, who noted that Nelson had not been taking his prescribed medication.

Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill said the increase in mental health cases could be attributed to better evaluations when an individual gets to the county jail.

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