Public Safety


Crime rates convey a sense of an area's safety and security, and can in turn affect the feelings of citizens towards their community and their government, and influence business and residential development. Fortunately, Virginia's ranking in this category is good — the Commonwealth's crime rate has remained steady at a better rate than the nation's.

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 public and/or private improvements or investment and degrade the residential desirability of an area.

When 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.

Citizen, business and governmental attention to changes in crime rates can spur action to secure the safety and protection of people and property, 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 or crime against persons. In fact, the vast majority of crime is property crime. Nationally, approximately 13 percent of crime is violent crime, while in Virginia only about 10 percent of crime is violent crime.

Violent Crime Per 100,000 Population. See text for explanation. Violent Crime Per 100,000 Population, By Region. See text for explanation. Property Crime Per 100,000 Population. See text for explanation. Property Crime Per 100,000 Population, By Region. See text for explanation.

Virginia's property crime rate was 2,677 and its violent crime rate was 276 per 100,000 people in 2004. The 2004 rate has decreased since 1999, when the property crime rate was 3,059 and the violent crime rate was 315. Throughout the period, Virginia remained below the national average of 3,517 for property crime and 466 for violent crime. Virginia's combined crime rate is more favorable than that of two-thirds of the states, placing Virginia at the 14th most favorable position in the nation in 2004, a slight drop from its 2003 rank of 12th most favorable. At least since 1999, Virginia has consistently had fewer property and violent crimes than North Carolina, Tennessee or Maryland. In 2004, North Carolina's property and violent crime rates were 4,160 and 448 respectively; Tennessee's property and violent crime rates were 4,306 and 695 respectively; and Maryland's property and violent crime rates were 3,640 and 701 respectively.

The state's highest violent and property crime rates in 2005 were 480 and 3694 per 100,000 people in the Hampton Roads Region, which is down from its 581 and 5014 rates in 1995. The lowest violent crime rate in 2005 occurred in the Valley Region with 149 crimes per 100,000, and the lowest property crime rate was in the Eastern Region with a rate of 1,697.

What Influences Crime?

Crime rates are affected by economic conditions and employment availability. In an unfavorable or declining economy, the commission of crimes increases. A downturn in earning power or unemployment may motivate persons to commit theft crimes, and anger and/or depression related to deprivation may lead persons to commit criminal acts.

Crime rates rise or fall depending on the volume of crimes reported. This may be affected by differences in police identification or targeting of crimes and resultant patrol or investigation behaviors, as well as varying citizen behaviors in reporting or not reporting crimes. Trends in the availability of illegal narcotics affect crime. Drug addiction is directly related to increased property crimes. The "drug trade" itself involves many criminal offenses and propagates other criminal behavior.

In addition, other societal and natural forces such as natural disasters and emergencies and state and federal public assistance policies influence crime rates.

What is the State's Role?

While personal behavior has a major impact on crime, the state plays a role in identifying and investigating and responding 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. In addition, the state coordinates the use of federal and state justice funding in Virginia. Whereas the crime rate relates to offenses reported to law enforcement, clearly the state has major criminal justice responsibility in addition to recording and responding to crime reports, such as the protection of citizens from crime, crime prevention, prosecution of criminal cases and management of convicted offenders. In addition, Virginia's economic development, employment, education and social services activities all affect crime rates.

Directly, the state provides law enforcement training and technical assistance to local law enforcement through the Virginia State Police and the Department of Criminal Justice Services, which affects how local law enforcement performs their functions.

Data Definitions and Sources:

National and State Level Crime rate data for separate states were downloaded from: FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Crime in the United States for each year 1995 through 2004,, specifically, Table 5: estimated volume and rate of Part I offenses for each state by community type.

Note: United States counts and rates in the FBI sources differ from those in the database due to our omission of Puerto Rico in the list of states. In addition, two sources of state level data for Virginia are included: (i) the FBI values for Virginia and (ii) the Virginia statewide values from the summation of the Virginia locality-specific counts and rates provided by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services Research Center.

This indicator presents the ratio of certain crimes reported to law enforcement agencies in an area to the population of that area; expressed per 100,000 population, per year. The crimes included in the rate are what have traditionally been termed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Part I crimes. The Crime Rate is derived from the 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 these serious offenses known to the police per 100,000 population.

Data on crime totals and rates for Virginia's localities were prepared by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services Research Center, VA DCJS - Research Center - Research Center Section, 5/10/06. The Virginia statewide totals and rates represent the summation of locality data.

Limitations of the Data
  • The FBI's 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 where there is less than 100 percent reporting, and estimation methods have changed over time.
  • Local agencies within a state and in separate states may classify reported crimes differently, causing comparability problems at the community level and state-to-state.
  • Major changes to the UCR system, especially the 1989 advent of the redesigned UCR Program, called the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), have affected data comparability. As of 2006, 29 state UCR programs (of which Virginia's is one) have been certified for NIBRS participation. Eight of these states submit all their data via the NIBRS; 21 states report data using more than one system. The 2004 change from reporting a Crime Index to reporting a violent crime and property crime total has also clouded the comparability of data from year to year.
  • The VSP collects crime data from law enforcement agencies. In 1994, Virginia began moving to an incident-based reporting system, in compliance with changes from the FBI. Law enforcement agencies did not change from arrest to incident reporting simultaneously, or even within the five-year period prescribed.
  • Since 1999, VSP has reported data based on the incident-based reporting system. That year, data for a large but unknown number of localities, including many large cities, was incomplete or entirely missing. In 2000, localities representing about one-quarter of Virginia's population reported no data or incomplete data. By 2002, that proportion was reduced to about 2 percent. Data submissions from a few agencies are still incomplete, and some believe that the missing/incomplete estimates are underreported.
  • Result: trend data involving 1999 and 2000 are not reliable. In any year a portion of arrests are unreported, and the extent of underreporting is unknown. Extreme caution should be used with regard to Virginia's crime data between 1994 and its certification for NIBRS.
  • That 29 states are now certified for NIBRS suggests that 21 are not. This fact makes national averages questionable. While every attempt has been made to use reliable data, national averages and state-to-state comparisons could be inaccurate due to data collection limitations in other states.
  • When all states are NIBRS certified, this may be a useful indicator of safety.
  • There are slight variations on Virginia data between reporting sources.
  • United States totals were calculated by summing all states as data from original source included Puerto Rico.


Recent State Initiatives

The 2006 Law Enforcement Services Community Policing Fund provides additional resources for the development or expansion of community policing programs in local jurisdictions throughout Virginia. grantDescription.cfm?grant=31 &menuLevel;=5&mID;=6

Executive Order 15 (2006) established the Interagency Anti-Gang Work Group to share information, coordinate anti-gang efforts and leverage resources to prevent and reduce gang activity in Virginia. ExecutiveOrders/2006/EO_15.cfm

Major State Programs

The Virginia State Police (VSP) protects the public by investigating crimes, arresting suspected criminals, operating and assisting local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in multi-jurisdictional task forces against illegal drugs, counter-terrorism, gangs and other threats and performs prevention programs.

The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) provides comprehensive planning and state-of-the-art technical and support services for the criminal justice system to improve and promote public safety in the Commonwealth.

The Virginia Crime Prevention Center provides crime prevention training, technical assistance, resource materials, and research. cple/cpc/index.cfm

The Department of Forensic Science (DFS) serves all state and local law enforcement agencies, medical examiners, and Commonwealth's Attorneys in Virginia by providing technical assistance and training, evaluate and analyze evidence, interpret results, and provide expert testimony related to the full spectrum of physical evidence recovered from crime scenes.

Additional Information

Crime Rates Explained

Crime rates are proxy measures of the "pervasiveness," or frequency, of criminal activity as experienced or observed, and as reported by persons or citizens. The volume of reported crimes is restated as a rate per 100,000 persons in this indicator to allow a clear indication of the relative high or low prevalence of reported crime in an area and to enable a comparison across geographic areas. Not all crimes, however, are reported, and not all reported incidences constitute a violation of law. In addition, this measure reflects counts of reported crime in the seven crime categories identified as serious crimes due to their nature and/or volume by the Federal Bureau of Investigations Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system. Crimes in many other categories, including more than 10 categories of UCR Part II offenses, reported to law enforcement are not reflected in this crime rate measure.

For More Information on Crime Rates

Reported Offenses in Virginia:

State and Federal Public Assistance Policies and Crime Rates:

Economics and Crime Rate:

Drugs and Crime Rate:

Data Limitations: