CORNING, N.Y. (WETM) – Corning City Manager Mark Ryckman told 18 News shootings are “probably flat” after the City denied a Freedom of Information appeal for shooting statistics over the last five years. Corning Police Chief Kenzie Spaulding told 18 News she agrees with Ryckman, saying “those numbers are pretty steady and pretty flat and not necessarily going up or down.” Both the City Manager and Police Chief made the assertions without providing statistics to back them up due to the limitations of an old records management system.
City Manager Ryckman and Chief Spaulding also told 18 News our Freedom of Information requests for data on shooting incidents, injuries, and firearms recovered by Corning Police over the last five years were too “generic” to match the way crimes are logged in the system. City Manager Ryckman also said he has the ability to request certain crime data when he needs it to run the City, but he has not requested a review of the data 18 News is looking for.
The City initially denied the FOIL request submitted by 18 News on June 26th. On July 20th, the City denied our appeal for the information.
In a letter, city attorney Byran Maggs wrote: ““The City of Corning does not maintain records that list shooting incidents by date, injuries from shootings, or firearms recovered by the City Police Department. Therefore, the City is not in possession of a records list that would be responsive to your requests.” Maggs says Freedom of Information requests require the City to produce existing records. Maggs says agencies are not required to compile or prepare records or create lists in response to information requests.
We wanted to know how the Corning Police Department knows if certain crimes, like shootings, are trending up or down, and what that means for the City’s policing strategy. Corning Police Chief Kenzie Spaulding and City Manager Mark Ryckman told 18 News the department uses an old records management system that is not “incident based” and easily searchable. Chief Spaulding also told 18 News our Freedom of Information requests were not specific enough to match how crimes are logged in the RMS or records management system.
“We don’t have a category of shots fired in our records management system. If I did a search for shots fired in the last five years, just solely based on what your FOIL request is, then it would provide no results, because we don’t do a category in our RMS system that tracks just that,” said Chief Spaulding.
“Despite what you can tell me here today, do you know if shootings are up or down here?” asked 18 News reporter Nick Dubina.
“I know if shootings are happening, if a gun is being discharged in the city of Corning, I’m aware of that. As far as numbers and trends and up and downs, I have, you know, categories where they give me an idea as to weapons and things of that nature. I agree with what the City Manager said in that we haven’t had a marked increase or decrease, and the City Manager is correct in that those numbers are pretty steady and pretty flat and not necessarily going up or down,” said Spaulding. City Manager Mark Ryckman told 18 News shootings are “probably flat” even though he has not requested an analysis of the data being sought by 18 News.
Chief Spaulding and City Manager Ryckman said the City is able to share how their records system tracks certain crime categories, like incidents involving firearms. 18 News is submitting new, more specific Freedom of Information requests for that data.
Chief Spaulding also says the police department does report monthly “uniform crime statistics” to New York State, but data does not answer the questions submitted in our Freedom of Information request. 18 News is working to obtain those reports from New York State.
“As the City Manager, are you able to say if shootings are up or down in the City of Corning, and if you are, what data do you base that on?” 18 News reporter Nick Dubina asked Corning City Manager Mark Ryckman.
“If you’re looking for specific records, our system has limitations. As the City Manager, when I’m looking at crime in the City, I could assign detailed research for such matters and somebody will actually manually pull that data,” said City Manager Ryckman. “So any time I need data to do my job I can certainly retrieve it. Now, given that the system is old, like all of the systems in Steuben County, sometimes it’s very labor intensive. But the City Attorney is correct, for FOIL requests, we need more specificity, and we are not obligated to create records.”
“So, my request was not specific enough in what I was asking for?” asked reporter Nick Dubina.
“Yes, your request doesn’t align with the categories that the system can retrieve them. So somebody has to manually go through that five years of records, so that’s not something we would do,” said Ryckman.
“As City Manager say you are able to request data from the police department if you want to know if crime is up or down, you can request that data and that can be provided for you?” asked reporter Nick Dubina.
“Well, I’d have to be more specific on what type of crime” said Ryckman.
“Shootings” said Dubina.
“Shootings, yeah, the Chief is probably going to ask me do I mean the discharge of a firearm, do I mean somebody shooting at somebody else, do I mean a police-involved shooting, and then somebody in the department could pull the records and research that for me.”
“So that’s for you, and I don’t want to belabor the point, but If I file a new, more specific FOIL for you guys, would the public be able to know what is going on with gun violence in the City?” asked Dubina.
“Depending on the specificity and how retrievable it is, we could provide that possibly. But again, that’s a hypothetical. I don’t know what your specific request is, and a staff member would have to review the system to see if its readily retrievable. But if it is, we would certainly provide it,” said Ryckman. “Gun violence in general, since I’ve been here, hasn’t been a large issue. But if it was an issue that we would want to do further research on, we certainly could do it.”
“So if I were to ask you today, looking back over the last five years, based on what you know and what you have discussed with your Police Chief, are shootings, as far as you can tell, showing an upwards trend, downwards trend, or are they flat?” asked Dubina.
“I would say they’re probably flat. I don’t think we have a significant amount of shootings in the City of Corning but you can certainly ask the Chief of Police.
“So you’ve been told by her that they are flat? Or you have you requested, remember you said you can request…” asked Dubina.
“I said I can request data. I have not requested that data. So if we have issues, I can then request data.
City Manager Ryckman says the goal is to modernize the records management system to be in line with that is being used by the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office.
“In our police reform plan we identified the need for a new system, and that’s with all of the police agencies in Steuben County” said Ryckman. “Currently Sheriff Allard is researching new systems and is trying to select one that we can all use so that we have some commonality in one vendor. What that system will be able to do or not do, we don’t know. He’s still researching them and we haven’t seen any demonstrations.”