Virginia ranks among states with lowest crime rates, FBI data shows, though with some homicide hotspots

Police investigate a shooting in Richmond last month. (NBC12)

By Jaclyn Barton/ Capital News Service

Virginia had the fourth lowest violent crime rate and 13th lowest property crime rate in the United States last year, according to new data from the FBI.

The commonwealth had 200 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2018, the data showed. Only Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire had a lower violent crime rate. Nationally, there were 369 violent offenses per 100,000 population.

Virginia had about 1,666 property crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. A dozen states — topped by New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont — had lower property crime rates. Nationwide, the rate was 2,200 property crimes per 100,000 population.

From 2017 to 2018, the violent crime rate decreased 3% and the property crime rate fell 7% nationwide and in Virginia.

All of Virginia’s metropolitan areas had violent crime rates below the nationwide level, and most were below the national rate for property crimes.

The Winchester and Harrisonburg metro areas had the least violent crime — fewer than 140 offenses per 100,000 population.

The metro areas with the most violent crime were Roanoke (235 offenses per 100,000 residents), Richmond (239), Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (265) and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News (307).

The Virginia metro areas with the least property crime were Harrisonburg (1,137 offenses per 100,000 population) and Lynchburg (1,350). The metro areas with the most property crime were Richmond (2,156 offenses per 100,000 residents), Roanoke (2,378) and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News (2,405).

Under the FBI’s definition, violent crimes include murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Property crimes include burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft.

Although Virginia’s overall statewide and metro-area crimes rates generally were low, the data revealed some trouble spots — especially regarding homicides.

Nationwide, there were 5 murders for every 100,000 people last year. Virginia’s murder rate was 4.6 per 100,000 population.

Most Virginia metro areas had murder rates below the national average. For example, the Winchester area didn’t report any homicides last year; the Blacksburg-Christiansburg area had just one; and the Charlottesville area had three (for a rate of 1.4 per 100,000 population).

But the murder rates in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria and Lynchburg metro areas were at the national average of 5 killings per 100,000 residents. The murder rates exceeded the national level in Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News and the Roanoke metro areas (about 7 murders per 100,000 residents) and the Richmond area (almost 8 murders per 100,000 population).

Murder rates were well above the national average in several Virginia cities, the FBI data showed. The murder rate last year was 44 killings per 100,000 population in Petersburg, 27 in Danville, 23 in Richmond, 21 in Portsmouth and 15 in Norfolk.

Of the 490 U.S. cities with a population between 25,000 and 35,000, only three had a higher murder rate than Petersburg. (One of the three was Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in 2018.)

Of the 31 U.S. cities with a population between 200,000 and 250,000, only two (Birmingham, Alabama, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana) had a murder rate higher than Richmond last year.

Among cities in Virginia, Portsmouth, Newport News, Richmond, Norfolk and Roanoke all had violent crime rates and property crime rates above the national average.

The Roanoke Police Department is active in community outreach programs created to reduce crime. They include neighborhood watch groups, a summer youth basketball league and programs to help students read and do their homework. Police officials attend as many as 30 community events each month.

“There is no way to determine causation factors for a potential decrease in crime. It could be a number of different reasons, and we cannot determine that any of our community outreach or crime prevention has impacted the crime rates,” said Caitlyn Cline, who does community outreach, public information and crime prevention for the Roanoke Police Department.

In 2018, Richmond reported 52 murders — more than any other city or county in Virginia. Still, that was a far cry from two decades ago.

“I don’t think Richmond or Virginia has a particularly high murder rate relative to places like Maryland and Baltimore,” said Patrick Lowery, assistant professor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University.

He said that in 1994, the number of murders in Richmond “peaked at 160. In 2014, we were down to 43, so that’s about four times less homicides relative to 10 or 15 years ago.”

Overall, violent crime in every major American city has decreased since the early 1990s. Lowery attributes that to many factors, such as community outreach programs and changing sentencing laws.

The FBI data release, from an annual report called Crime in the United States, represents statistics reported by about 16,700 law-enforcement agencies last year.

In June, the Virginia State Police issued a state-level report called Crime in Virginia. The State Police report covered additional crimes such as kidnapping and abduction.

A total of 1,696 kidnapping and abduction offenses were reported in 2018. That number was up 6% from 2017. Prince William County had the most kidnappings last year — 111.

“It’s not as if random people are getting snatched off the street,” said Sgt. Jonathan Perock, supervisor for the Prince William County Police Department. “The majority of the time, it’s a domestic incident in which both parties are known to one another.”