Special report: Crime rates going down
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer and Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Jul 3, 2014, 14:52
Editor's note: For a chart showing detailed year-by-year crime statistics for each locality in the Tri-City area, see this weekend's print edition.
The crime numbers in Hopewell have been trending steadily downward in the past few years and many of the statistics reported have been the lowest in almost 10 years. Though the crime continues to drop in the area, Chief John Keohane is still working to drive the numbers down even further.
Not only has Keohane worked in and around the streets of Hopewell, he has worked within the walls of the police station. Most recently, the Hopewell Police Department became a Virginia state accredited department. The process included a re-write of more than 100 policies and the creation of a more than 1,000 page policy manual.
Last year the department joined just 84 other agencies in the state, becoming the 85th agency out of 400, to carry the title of accreditation.
“We’ve changed the mindset of some of the officers not just to be proactive but to make those great partnerships and great relationships within the community,” Keohane said.
With the title of accreditation came increased morale and increased professionalism among the officers, he said. Keohane said the accreditation not only lifted a dark cloud that lingered over the department but lifted the department up to a level Keohane said it needed to be.
“Carrying that seal of accreditation that has created a sense of professionalism in this place and they are considered now equals in the region with all other law enforcement. They now stand on equal ground,” Keohane said. “But with that too we hold them accountable to keep that professionalism at its best.”
The change within the police department went out to the streets to help combat crime in the city. Keohane has spent many, many hours working to build partnerships in the city and build that trust among the residents of Hopewell.
“We are trying very hard to break that stigma of what people deem as snitching. That’s one that’s very difficult to break that cycle,” he said. “I think we made some inroads on it. We’ve had some people that would never, ever talk before are now coming forward that are victims of crime and telling us ... doing the right things and telling us who committed the crime.”
Keohane has also built up what he calls his “army of eyes.” He has built partnerships with not only other officials in the city, such as the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, but with the schools and housing authority as well. He has also strengthened the neighborhood watch programs in the city.
With the build up of his army and the partnerships in the area, the crimes in the city have trended downward with Keohane being especially proud of the decrease in burglaries. For 2012 and 2013, the burglaries stayed in the low 200s at 212 in 2012 and 233 in 2013, the lowest since 2006.
The highest amount of burglaries reported in recent years was in 2011 at 311. Keohane said most of that was due to the spike the first half of the year. Keohane was hired as police chief in May 2011. He said once focus was turned to preventing the crime and keeping an eye out for trends, arrests were made, thwarting the continued rise.
Keohane said with half the year almost gone, only 80 burglaries have been reported. He is shooting for making a record, even lower than 2006 when only 180 burglaries were reported.
“I’m big about focus,” he said. “Using crime analysis figuring out where to predict where are my problems areas and sometimes I’ve got to focus more attention on those problem areas ... We look at it every day and we try to see where our problems are going to be and we try to, if we can, form a pattern. We try to form it as quickly as possible.”
Another tool the department has used is social media. He said though social media has helped combat some forms of crime it has also created crime in the city. For instance, Keohane said groups in the city will fight on the streets over Facebook posts.
“This is what you fight with social media and the ability to text, the Facebook, the Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat,” Keohane said naming a few social media sites. He is also working to educate not only kids, but parents, about social media sites.
Keohane said many parents do not know what their children on doing on social media sites.
To also drive down some of the ‘beef on the streets’ as he says, Keohane is working closely with lawmakers to get some of the groups in the city classified as gangs. He said this will allow the department to enforce gang laws.
“These are the ones that are carrying the guns,” Keohane said. “They are beefing with each other sometimes over a stupid thing as a Facebook post. They go to school together.”
Along with groups fighting over social media, Keohane often fights with the perception social media creates in terms of crime. He said although crime, especially violent crime, has gone down in the Tri-Cities area and Central Virginia the instantaneous news that is created through apps and the web, almost proves otherwise.
“It’s so much at people’s fingertips,” Keohane said.
A few crimes that are at people’s fingertips that Keohane said he has a hard time battling are fraud, embezzlement, counterfeit and forgery. He said this is due to most of the crimes are being committed behind a computer screen. He said those crimes seem to be a growing trend in and around the area. For 2014, Keohane has had 40 crimes in that related area.
One crime category that has seen a spike in recent years are on drug charges. Since 2011, the numbers have increased from 293 in 2011, to 291 in 2012 and 293 in 2013. Keohane said this is not because the drug problem has increased in the area but rather the focus on combating drugs has increased.
“Some of your categories go up because your officers are very proactive and that is more than likely your weapons and drug offenses. When you look beyond the traffic stop, sometimes it can take you to places,” Keohane said of one way officers have ramped up enforcement on drugs. “It can take you to drugs. It can get you to guns.”
Overall, Keohane is pleased with not only the crime statistics in Hopewell but the work has been done to drive those numbers down and in some cases, up. He said 2012 was a “historic” year for the department.
As far as 2014 goes, Keohane said the numbers are getting better but that does not mean the work stops.
“There’s a lot of work to be done still,” Keohane said. “Yes we’re making some impact and some inroads on crime and getting some good reductions in many areas that I want to see reductions into. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Despite a recent string of burglaries, robberies and shootings, serious crimes in Colonial Heights have seen a steady decrease over the past few years.
Although the overall crime rate in Colonial Heights has steadily been increasing over the past seven years, it is still lower than it had been in the early 2000s. The overall crime rate went up from 8,675 per 100,000 residents in 2007 to 9,840 in 2013. But it had reached 11,130 in 2001.
But many of the serious crimes have dropped off significantly in the past few years.
From 2011 to 2013, Colonial Heights experienced its lowest number of robberies since 2005. Although there was a slight increase from eight to 13, the number of combined robberies in those three years, 30, is less than half of the combined robberies for the three years prior to 2011.
At 17, aggravated assaults in 2013 were the lowest they have been since 2006.
As far as simple assaults, there has been a consistent decline since 2010, with 2013 reporting the lowest number of simple assaults since 2007.
Burglaries showed a downward trend from 2008 to 2013, with last year’s 50 burglaries being the lowest since 2007.
Despite this period of decline, Sgt. Rob Ruxer said that the number of burglaries in the first half of this year has already surpassed 50, but that “at least a dozen are connected to one suspect,” who has been arrested.
In 2013, vehicle theft was the lowest it has been in more than a decade at 17, and has steadily been on the decline since 2007 (save for a big spike in 2012).
Since 2004, there have only been three homicides in Colonial Heights, including a seven-year stretch without a single homicide, and the deaths occurred in just two separate incidents.
Rape statistics have remained relatively low and consistent in the city over the past decade.
Certain inclines in crime statistics, such as drug violations or larcenies, can actually skew the perception of overall crime rate, because they are the result of more active enforcement rather than a heightened presence of the crime itself in the community.
The total number of drug charges in Colonial Heights in 2013 skyrocketed far higher than any year in the last 10 years, more than doubling the 189 charges in 2005. At 422 drug-related charges last year, Ruxer said that the jump is most likely attributed to the proactive nature of the Special Operations Unit.
Comprised of four police officers, the Special Operations Unit was initiated in the latter half of 2012 with the specific intention of generating cases related to narcotics violations, public intoxication, gang-related activity, domestic violence and other quality of life issues.
“That’s all they do. They don’t work patrol. ... They’re out there pulling people over, aggressively enforcing drug violations, and they’re good at what they do. I would say that is why that number has jumped so much,” Ruxer said.
Although the unit had previously existed in Colonial Heights many years back for a short period, the more recent venture seems to have produced more effective results with its first full year being 2013.
In addition to drug violations being the result of deliberate enforcement, the number of larcenies can also increase as a result of stricter enforcement.
With the Southpark Mall area acting as a retail haven, larceny is a likely byproduct, therefore more proactive anti-theft efforts will result in a greater number of reported larcenies, Ruxer said.
Although the 685 larcenies in 2013 was the lowest in Colonial Heights since 2007, both 2011 and 2012 had more than 800 larcenies, the highest numbers since 2002.
Ruxer also mentioned that despite the fact that Colonial Heights has a reputation for being strict on traffic violations, this is how many suspects in ongoing investigations are apprehended.
Two suspects linked to robberies on Biltmore Drive and Norwood Drive in the past two months were arrested after being pulled over for a speeding violation, and multiple suspects related to a series of recent incidents along the Boulevard were apprehended after fleeing a traffic stop.
“We stopped a guy recently who was wanted for homicide out of New Jersey, because we were out there just enforcing traffic violations. As much as we get a bad rap for enforcing traffic violations, that’s how we are catching these criminals,” Ruxer said.
Many Colonial Heights residents have taken to social media or public meetings to voice their concerns that the city is not as safe as it used to be. Having looked at the numbers for the major felonies over the past several years, with many of them showcasing downward trends, Ruxer said that because of advanced social media outlets and increased media publicity, people could be coming more aware of the crimes that have always been taking place in the community.
“We have instant access to almost everything. Because you have that instant access, it is perceived that more things are going on,” Ruxer said.
In light of recent scrutiny received from certain members of the community, Ruxer said the police department is making a concerted effort to build their relationship with residents to build a stronger crime-fighting movement, including the implementation of five neighborhood watch programs in the city with the intention to develop eight additional programs.
The police department also recently started a Facebook.com page to help keep the public informed.
“We want to have these law enforcement partnerships. We want to help [neighborhoods] set these things up, and then it becomes a citizen run program. We initially help them set them up. We set up block captains, and then they roll from there. If they see something, they call us,” Ruxer said, emphasizing the limitations of having only so many officers available to patrol an eight square-mile city on any given night.
Crime rates in Prince George have been fluctuating over the past decade, so it is difficult to point out trends. But the county does enjoy a significantly lower crime rate than the nearby cities.
Some trends do stand out though. Robberies in the past three years have dropped down to the single digits. Burglaries have steadily dropped from a high of 116 in 2009 to 73 in 2013. Larcenies have dropped steadily from 386 in 2010 to 292 in 2013. Vehicle thefts were at the lowest point in recent history in 2013 at 12 while drug charges reached a high in 2013 with 241, a number that goes up with tougher enforcement.
The crime rate in Chesterfield has dropped consistently since 2001. The crime rate per 100,000 went from 6,388 in 2001 to 4,963 in 2013. However the numbers may not reflect the crime trends in southern Chesterfield because the numbers are heavily influenced by areas with more population, such as the more urban areas near Richmond.
Robberies have declined steadily from 329 in 2007 to 147 in 2013.
Aggravated assaults have declined steadily from 314 in 2006 to 186 in 2013.
Burglaries peaked in 2009 at 1,837 before dropping back off again to 1,236 in 2013.
Larcenies and vehicle thefts in 2013 were at the lowest point in more than a decade while drug charges were at their highest point in 2013.
• Managing editor James Peacemaker Jr. contributed to this report.