Crime rates help impart a sense of an area's safety and security. Crime rates can affect the feelings citizens have about their community and their government, and can influence business and residential development. Fortunately, crime rates across the country have largely been decreasing for over a decade; Virginia's rate remains lower than the national average.
Why is This Important?
Crime rates convey the incidence of serious crimes that are reported to law enforcement agencies. A high crime rate suggests an unsafe community and may deter improvements or investment and degrade the residential desirability of an area.
When crime rates are favorable or improving, citizens may feel more secure and may credit public safety organizations for the improvement, think more highly of government, and be more trusting of others. A low crime rate correlates with a secure area, may be attractive to business and residential development, and may lead to associated improvements in an area's tax base.
Changes in crime rates can spur residents, business and government into action to improve safety and security, as well as to direct law enforcement resources and priorities.
How is Virginia Doing?
When people think about crime, they tend to focus on violent crime against persons, when in fact the vast majority of crime is property-related. Nationally, about 12 percent of crime is violent crime, although in Virginia that rate drops to about 8 percent.
In 2013, Virginia's property crime rate (as measured per 100,000 population) was 2,066 -- yet another decline from the previous year. Virginia has remained well below the national property crime average for over a decade and ranks 8th lowest in the country. Virginia has also consistently had lower property crime rates than North Carolina (3,128), Tennessee (3,181), or Maryland (2,663), although it should be noted that all three states also saw drops in their property crime rates. New York led the nation in 2013 with a property crime rate of 1,825 per 100,000 people.
Virginia's violent crime rate was 188 per 100,000 people in 2013. Again, this rate has generally decreased since 2004, when the violent crime rate was 276. Virginia's 2013 rate is the 3rd lowest in the nation; Vermont ranks first with a rate of only 115. Compared to its peer states, Virginia is again a leader for low violent crime, even though rates dropped in all peer states as well. In 2013, North Carolina saw a rate of 337, Tennessee was at 580, and Maryland posted a rate of 468.
The Regional Picture
Virginia's highest crime rates in 2013 were again in the Hampton Roads region, which saw rates of 2,985 property crimes and 292 violent crimes per 100,000 people. However, these rates have generally dropped -- sometimes significantly -- over the last 10 years.
The lowest regional property crime rate in 2013 was in the Eastern region, with a rate of 1,321; the lowest violent crime rate occurred in the Northern region, with 118 crimes per 100,000 people.
What Influences Crime?
Generally, crime rates are affected by personal behavior, economic conditions, and employment availability. In an unfavorable or declining economy, crime typically (though not always) increases. Poor earning power, unemployment, or frustration with the resulting deprivations may lead people to commit criminal acts.
Trends in the availability of illegal narcotics also affect crime: Drug addiction is directly related to increased property crimes, while the drug trade itself involves many criminal offenses and creates other criminal behavior.
Trends in the severity of law enforcement for drug violations can also affect longer-term crime rates. In recent years, first-time or non-violent drug offenders have increasingly been routed to drug courts, as treatment for substance abuse is generally proving to be more effective than incarceration. As a result, fewer offenders are being labeled as felons upon release -- with the attendant and often onerous restrictions that places on individuals when they seek jobs, rental housing, education loans, and other factors that help combat recidivism.
Finally, crime rates are dependent on the volume of crimes actually reported. This volume may be affected by differences in how states report (or do not report) crimes to the FBI; how police identify or target crimes and their patrol or investigation behaviors; and by citizen willingness to report crimes.
What is the State's Role?
While personal behavior has a major impact on crime, state and local law enforcement identify, investigate, and respond to crime. The state's criminal justice mandate involves direct criminal apprehension and detention as well as the provision of criminal justice training, resources, and technical assistance. It also has a clear responsibility for preventing crime, protecting citizens, and prosecuting offenders.
The state also coordinates the use of federal and state justice funding in Virginia.
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data Definitions and Sources
Data on crime totals and rates for Virginia's localities was prepared by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services Research Center. The Virginia statewide totals and rates represent the summation of locality data.
National and State Level Crime Rate data for separate states was downloaded from FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Crime in the United States for each year 2000 through 2013, www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm#cius.
The Crime Rate is derived from reporting on seven offenses identified by the FBI as serious crimes by nature and/or by volume: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. Arson is also a property crime but is not included in the property crime analysis because of insufficient data. Index Crime Rates are counts of the above serious offenses per 100,000 population. (NOTE: Violent crime rates were estimated using the legacy Uniform Crime Reporting definition of rape. See FBI Uniform Crime Reports for further explanation.)
Limitations of the Data
- The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) is a voluntary program in which participating law enforcement agencies report incidents of seven selected serious crimes. Estimates are used to reach a total wherever there is less than 100 percent reporting, and estimation methods have changed over time.
- Local agencies within a state and across states may classify reported crimes differently, causing comparability problems at the community and state levels.
- As of 2013, 33 state UCR programs (of which Virginia's is one) have been certified for NIBRS participation. Some submit all their data via the NIBRS; others report data using more than one system. Three additional states and the District of Columbia have individual agencies submitting NIBRS data; NIBRS is still in the developmental stage in seven more states or territories. According to the FBI, six states currently have no formalized plan to report incident-based data.
Drug Courts & Treatment Alternatives to Incarceration, DrugFacts.org
Virginia Drug Court Association, 2010 Annual Report to the Virginia General Assembly
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.