By the Way, Assaults on Virginia Police Officers Surged Last Year

by James A. Bacon

So, the nation is in an uproar again, this time over the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks by a white police officer in Atlanta after Brooks resisted arrest, grabbed the officer’s taser and turned it on him. While this incident, like every other episode fueling the Black Lives Matter movement, occurred outside the Old Dominion, Virginians are wrestling with the same set of issues regarding the police use of force, particularly in their interactions with African-Americans.

Largely missing from the discussion — certainly here in Virginia — are the risks that police officers encounter when dealing with the public. The data shown above, taken from Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia” reports show dramatic increases in the number of assaults on police officers in 2017 and 2019. Last year, the number of assaults reached 1,939 — by far the greatest number of incidents of any year since the state police settled upon consistent reporting methodology in 2000.

In doesn’t take a PhD in criminology to understand that police officers are routinely placed in highly stressful and unpredictable situations. A useful measure of how frequently those situations arise is the number of incidents in which police are assaulted. The data show that the number of assaults reported each year bounced around the 1,200-to-1,500 range until 2017, and then headed north.

While the media may not have taken cognizance of this surge in assaults, police officers themselves undoubtedly have. As the risk of violent encounters increases, their jobs become more stressful. As their jobs become more stressful, the odds increase that someone called upon to make a split-second decision will make the wrong decision.

The state police data provide some clues as to what’s going on. Assaults are classified by the circumstances in which they occur. “Responding to disturbance” is consistently the most common circumstance, followed by “attempting other arrests,” “handling, transporting, and custody of prisoners.” and “investigating suspicious persons or circumstances.”

The graph above show three categories in which assaults have increased the most. From this data, we can draw these conclusions:

  • Police are being more assaulted more frequently by people resisting arrest than in the past.
  • Police are being assaulted more frequently by people classified as “mentally deranged.”
  • Police are being assaulted more frequently by jail and prison inmates.

If someone who is mentally deranged, resisting arrest, or trying to escape custody assaults a police officer, the odds increase exponentially that the officer will respond with deadly force. Police don’t go around looking for people to kill. They respond to circumstances. In theory, if those circumstances increase in number, so, most likely, will the number of fatal incidents.

The Virginia Crime Report has been recording the number of officer-involved shooting incidents since the second half of 2016. That half-year saw only four shootings. The following year, coinciding with the spike in assaults on officers, there were 28 officer-involved shootings, 28 the year after that, and 24 last year. Clearly, officer-involved shootings and assaults on officers do not move in lockstep, but the limited information available is consistent with the theory that there is a relationship between the two phenomenon.

Given the controversy over the police treatment of African-Americans, it would be useful to be able to break down the assault-on-police and the police-shooting data by race. Has the increase in assaults on policemen been a population-wide phenomenon, a white phenomenon or a black phenomenon? Have African-Americans been the victims disproportionately of police shooting? If so, did the circumstances justify the shootings?

It would be useful to have this information before Virginia politicians go shooting off the lip or proposing changes to policing practices in Virginia based on suppositions with no support in reality.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


25 responses to “By the Way, Assaults on Virginia Police Officers Surged Last Year”

  1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    Self defense?

    “The definition of assault varies by jurisdiction, but is generally defined as intentionally putting another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.”

    A lot of room can be found in that definition. Today, would an uncovered sneeze count?

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    There are situations that make the use of force, including deadly force, acceptable. But that doesn’t explain what officers Chauvin and Thao did/didn’t do or why they remained on the Minneapolis Police Force.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Yeah.. police reporting data to other police? Read the Mercury article… ” Last year, the Lynchburg News & Advance reported that almost 30 percent of major police shootings weren’t reported to the state as required under the 2016 law.”

    How can we have a state law on reporting and local police are not collecting and/or not reporting?

    BR hammers VDH and Higher Ed and K-12 on a regular basis for their data-reporting “sins” but when it comes to this kind of data… the passion is missing.

    1. Well, the data should be reported. If the “passion is missing,” it’s because I’ve only now started to focus on the issue.

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      If we cannot enforce the laws on the books, how are more laws going to fix things? If the local police force is not reporting incidents where there is an officer-involved shooting, what are the mayors, county executives, police chief and boards of supervisors doing? Why aren’t they doing their jobs? Do some people get a pass? Why?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Isn’t this why people are in the streets? Is that having a bigger impact than what was being done before that in terms of getting changes?

        Whatever was being done before was not working, not in Minneapolis, but also not in Detroit or Seattle or NYC or Philadelphia, etc, etc.

        What was going on in Minneapolis was not that different from what was happening at other cities… it was not a problem if Minneapolis was doing what other cities were doing – about keeping people on the force that had complaints against them. It was normal to do so. Very, very few officers were fired for having complaints against them or even being involved in shootings.

        Now, with people in the streets, change might be happening – not only in Minneapolis but many other cities.

        The thing that stands out is that even after Floyd was killed, more incidents were occurring in other cities – and the police showed no restraint – they just kept doing what they always did – as if the Floyd killing had not happened and no one was watching. Weird!

      2. djrippert Avatar

        Yes, Larry’s arguments remain confused. In a liberal’s mind there is an amorphous group called “the police”. They are a secretive evil organization being controlled by some invisible racist force. No number of well intentioned morally upright elected officials can stop this evil force. That’s because the real culprits are not the elected officials to whom the police report but “systemic racism”. Voila. A lovely little liberal boy from Northern Virginia named Jacob Frey can become mayor of Minneapolis running on a campaign of police reform. Two and a half years after being elected Frey’s police force has two long term miscreants on the department respond to a relatively minor incident. Instead of dealing with the relatively minor situation with appropriate force the two often-cited miscreants do what miscreants do … they went from over-reaction to brutalization to murder. Were the miscreant officers at fault? Of Course. Was the mayor at fault for allowing these long time bad apples to remain on the force? Of course. But criticizing a progressive mayor for inaction isn’t in the liberal playbook. In liberal minds the real problem is systemic racism rather than an incompetent mayor who knew the police force had bad cops but didn’t do anything about it – despite his campaign promises.

        The data in Virginia is no different. Once again, elected officials are put in place by the people to manage public affairs. This includes mandated reporting of police shootings. According to the Virginia Mercury this is not happening. Why not? Between McAuliffe and Northam this has been going on for four years. If the Lynchburg News & Advance could figure this out why couldn’t Ralph Northam? Let me guess – when the Virginia legislature writes laws it’s not really the state executive’s role to enforce those laws. So when the General Assembly mandated reporting of police shooting data there was no thought by McAuliffe or Northam about how to make sure that happened?

        Why isn’t Northam accountable for this lack of reporting on police shootings?

        Oh, let me guess … “systemic racism”?

        A big part of ending racism in America is holding our half-witted politicians to account for enforcing the laws and policies that already exist to reduyce racism in America.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          well no more or no less than amorphous groups like “plantation elites” and coonman governors.. for sure!

          Or how about “reporting” of money in Virginia politics?

          or “reporting” of UVAs finances?

          etc, etc, blah blah blather…

          and yes.. in some folks worlds , anyone to the left of Attila the Hun is a “liberal” and especially so if they express doubts about how the police (like Fairfax, for example)… “report” .

          So the question at hand for those of any political stripe is: is there systemic racism in our police forces”?

          Are all those folks in the streets.. clueless liberals being led by the nose by Antifa? Well, yes , according to some… 😉

        2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          There has been a lot of criticism on this blog about Frey not ferreting out these “miscreant officers” and getting rid of them. My question, which has not been answered: Based on personnel regulations or law, could the mayor or police chief have fired a police officer, based on previous incidents, for which he was cleared by the administration in office at the time of the incidents? Or would the mayor or chief have to wait for another incident involving that officer in order to take some action? I suppose that the police chief or the captain or sergeant, whoever was in charge of the precinct, could have put Chauvin on desk duty. But, it must be admitted that it is a lot to ask of a mayor in the first two years of his term to go through all the past records of individual police officers to find those ticking time bombs and pull them off the street.

          1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            I asked that of whoever it is around here who has a Frey’d brain and got no response.

            What we do know is the police unions hold great sway over what happens with personnel matters. That’s widely reported, and varied.

          2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            Dick – when a non-incumbent candidate challenges the incumbent on an issue (police reform) after two incidents of police shootings and who consistently stated that the Minneapolis city charter “gives full and exclusive responsibility for police to the mayor,” is it wrong to hold that person responsible for failing to clean up the cops? If he saw the police union as a barrier, shouldn’t he have said something about it? As my dad always told me, Mr. Bigmouth, put your money where your mouth is. As my former boss said Walk your talk.

            Chauvin had 17-18 complaints and two letters of reprimand in 19 years. Is it too much to expect the mayor’s chief of police to bring up the cops with the very bad records? What would you have done if you were chief of police? Thao’s record included beating a black man that he had handcuffed. This is not a case of a identifying every cop who screwed up once. This is a case of putting virtue signaling over good government.

            Frey is getting a pass because he’s a self-proclaimed civil rights lawyer, a good virtue signaler and, most of all, a Democrat! Does anyone think that had Gillespie beaten Northam and the blackface photo was Gillespie instead of Northam that Gillespie would still be Governor? Unfortunately, this is no longer about reform, it’s all about politics and power.

            Funny how the Post missed Juanita Brodderick and Justin Fairfax but managed to go to Alabama for Roy Moore. Funny how the allegations against Biden have gone away while the Kavanaugh ones still pop up.

            My bottom line is still: If Frey would have done what he promised to do, Chauvin and Thao would not have been on Lake Street on May 25 and George Floyd would still be alive.

          3. djrippert Avatar

            Frey, di Blasio, Bottoms … or the almost endless series of liberal Democratic mayors who proceeded them. Rodney King was a long time ago but nothing changes. No matter how long liberals are mayors of a city there is never enough time to address the problem of racism in their police departments. It’s always the same – miscreant cop gets caught on video beating or even killing a black man. High level reviews show the miscreant cop had all kinds of complaints, warnings, etc. Liberal politicians swear they will address the problem … this time for sure. Another few months, another episode of police brutality, another video, another round of protests / riots.

            Let’s be honest – the liberals running our cities either cannot or will not get their police departments under control.

            Frey was a councilman before he was mayor. Minneapolis had multiple major police brutality issues. Frey ran on police reform as a major plank.

            Here’s what his first move should have been – get the 10% of cops with the most complaints off the streets and behind desks where they can undergo psychological evaluation relating to their fitness to be a police officer.

            Let the police union sue. Get the people riled up about what happens with those unions. Oh, right … liberals have to support unions even if they contribute to racially motivated murder. I forgot. Unions are sacred cows.

            Oh well, just pay lip service and wait for the next cop to kill the next unarmed black man and blame it on systemic racism.

            No accountability, no justice.
            No accountability, no justice.
            No accountability, no justice.

          4. sherlockj Avatar

            Jacob Frey was on the city council representing the Third Ward (downtown) for four years before he moved up to the mayor’s office. He ran for mayor on a platform of police reform. So we and the citizens of Minneapolis can be forgiven for presuming he knew something about the PD before he ran.

            As Mayor, Frey under the city charter has “complete power” over the police department, which undoubtedly was a feature of his mayoral campaign.

            The department is organized into three administrative bureaus: Patrol, Investigations, and Professional Standards each led by a Deputy Chief.

            The Chief and his Deputy Chief for Professional Standards should have been on his calendar in the first week.

            If he got anything but a yes sir from either, he should have replaced them both. In any event he should have put one of his own people on the headquarters staff in either case. He should have asked citizens to come to his own staff if they thought they were mistreated and ignored by the PD. He should have had the same message for the community organizations.

            That is not second guessing, it is public administration 101. Frey is not very good at his job. If you want to read about how complicated Minneapolis is, read about the last rezoning of the wards.

          5. LarrytheG Avatar

            I can’t disagree with your premise but would point out that before the Dems and black leadership, there were GOP and white leadership and the problem continued despite the change of leadership.

            But the police have been famous in the US for that “blue line” where they run their own affairs without “interference” and those that run on a promise to reform the police are talking through their hats.

            To point out that the police have claimed for years that they have “accountability” – they have IA – Internal Affairs that is supposed to root out corruption and find and get rid of bad cops.

            So I don’t think blaming liberals in terms of blaming them for their political philosophy (as opposed to Conservative philosophy) is valid. COPs have always had it their way no matter the flavor of the political leadership. They’ve always been separate and insulated from the rest of city leadership.

            Finally – it’s not “conservatives” that are in the streets demanding reform. They’re not winning elections in the cities with their philosophies of policing or for that matter any other services either.

            The folks in the streets vote for liberal urban leaders and they are going to foster some change.. older conservative white folks never had much of a problem with the way the police and black folks interact – at least not enough to make much of an issue about.

            The folks in the street – especially young women have had enough of the problem. Changes are going to happen – and I suspect not without some hiccups… and perhaps some sliding back… we’ll see…

            but calling this a “liberal” failure is just BS.

        3. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          Hey! Nobody liked Jimmy Hoffa (well, at least someone didn’t). Now imagine him with a Union full of guys with guns and badges.

          Why is it you can think of other unions as criminal organizations, hate anything associated with the word “union”, e.g., AFL-CIO, Local 811 IBEW, Union Camp, Union Station, Not the Confederacy, but cannot see how police unions have a stranglehold on local law enforcement? Bet you even donate when they call.

          Hey, as a dyed-in-the-wool member of the Eastern quiche-eating Liberal Establishment, even I can see how the police unions just rot the whole process of improving police professionalism.

          Well, that and the dearth of PBKs in policing.

          1. sherlockj Avatar

            Just can’t wait for Virginia’s public sector collective bargaining law to take effect in May of 2021. Can you?

            The limited public-sector bargaining law permits localities to recognize and bargain with labor unions. Localities may, but are not required to, pass ordinances authorizing public sector union recognition and bargaining within their jurisdictions. Though not required to put an ordinance to a vote voluntarily, if a group of public employees informs the locality it has majority support for a union, the locality must vote on a collective bargaining ordinance within 120 days. Public sector employee strikes remain prohibited.

            Are the blue cities and counties of Virginia going to collectively bargain with all of their employees except police? I guess we’ll see.

          2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            Benies and pay is one thing, the whole personnel discipline yet another. One problem is the local CA’s willingness to charge a cop can destroy his career. Cops make prosecutions. It’s all in the evidence. The CA just puts on the show. If the cops do like him/her… their success rate will plummet.
            Maybe police disciplinary boards should be state level with its own investigators, who like the FBI will smack the stuffing out of witnesses who lie or mislead them.
            What do you call a good cop who “didn’t see anything”? A bad cop.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            The relationship between a cop and the CA is inherently incestuous. That’s why sometimes a CA from another jurisdiction is brought in.

            So it does need to be a state or regional level function where there is no pre-existing relationship.

            Things like this should not be desired “reforms”. They ought to be already built into the system.

            Also, a citizen should be able to petition to bring charges and that will likely not happen with a local CA.

            These are fundamental issues.. they should not have to be instituted but already baked in.

      3. Nancy_Naive Avatar

        “Do some people get a pass? Why?”

        Yes. That’s the whole of the nut still in its shell… with its badge.

        No, DJ, the police are not racist. Perhaps in an effort to prove it, they’ll start killing white people soon.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          As I recall, police kill twice as many white people as black people in America every year. Still disproportionate against blacks but plenty of white bodies too.

    3. The above is a terrific discussion, and a terrific demonstration of the very reason there is so much tumult in the streets. The system for police reform is so complicated, with so many checks and balances, and the ‘progressive’ element is so conflicted over cracking down on union abuses of power and so inexperienced at running a complex bureaucracy and so inadequate to the task of forging a political solution to a broad, deeply-embedded problem of any kind — is it at all surprising that nothing changes?

      DHS asked the right questions, and SJ answered them in part, and thank God for the clarity of DJR’s and TMT’s answers — but it comes down to this: those folks marching in the street are totally frustrated. They want to know what it’s going to take to achieve real change? Well, what’s the answer: Does it take the happy coincidence of a deeply skilled politician who also has a clear vision of what he/she is out to achieve? Or is a modern urban jurisdiction incapable of meaningful self reform despite overwhelming popular support?

  4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Please take careful note of Jim’s words:

    “Largely missing from the discussion — certainly here in Virginia — are the risks that police officers encounter when dealing with the public. The data shown above, taken from Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia” reports show dramatic increases in the number of assaults on police officers in 2017 and 2019. Last year, the number of assaults reached 1,939 — by far the greatest number of incidents of any year since the state police settled upon consistent reporting methodology in 2000 …


    “The Virginia Crime Report (also) has been recording the number of officer-involved shooting incidents since the second half of 2016. That half-year saw only four shootings. The following year, coinciding with the spike in assaults on officers, there were 28 officer-involved shootings, 28 the year after that, and 24 last year. Clearly, officer-involved shootings and assaults on officers do not move in lockstep, but the limited information available is consistent with the theory that there is a relationship between the two phenomenon.” End Quote

    Now look at Jim’s chart showing the last year (2016) before citizen assaults on police began their sharp rise. In 2016, the number of such assaults on police was 1238.

    By mid 2017, assaults on police had jumped to 1278. After that assaults on police exploded to 1654 by the end late 2017 / early 2018.

    Then assaults briefly drifted lower.

    Then assaults on police spiked again in 2019 to 1939 assaults, as Jim says “— by far the greatest number of incidents of any year since the state police settled upon consistent reporting methodology in 2000.”

    What is the most plausible explanation of this sharp spike of citizen violence against the police? I suggest the best explanation for that explosion of violence against police in Virginia is found here:

    If you read this article on the early July riots in Charlottesville, Virginia in summer of 2017, I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that the real citizen assaults that day were not against the KKK. Instead those were citizen assaults against the police before and well after the clan left. And the citizens won, while the police lost. For the state government, bowing to the wishes of mobs, thereafter withdrew its obligation to insure public safety, and thwarted the police from doing their job. That failure spiraled, as some communities and local governments withdrew their support of the police. Another words, the tables have been turned against the police mostly ever since.

    And now, apparently, the State is moving yet again against the police, for a problem the state itself created and now perpetuates.

    See also Jim’s just posted article on state instigated police reforms.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Correction, the article on police reforms was written by Dick, not Jim.

  5. The other thing GA probably needs to do is review some of the over-the-top penalties for the state laws as written by GA.

    For example, for the longest time (although now fixed) getting onto the VRE mass transit train without paying for the ticket before boarding was a criminal offense, putting a misdemeanor on many a confused commuters criminal record. Somewhat similar thing is fishing without license is (or was historically) a criminal offense, and parking in the VGDIF fishing parking lot without a fishing pole is still, as far as I know, considered criminal trespassing against the state of Virginia, which is a serious crime. I was told that was simply because GA did not give parking violation as an allowable ticket for VGDIF officers to write. I was promised that situation would be fixed, but I do not know if it actually has been fixed.

    During the Great Recession, I argued we are putting questionable criminal offenses on many people’s records, which just hurts our own state competitiveness. Now with the COVID economy, it is pertinent again. Lots of our residents have English as a second language, so they may not realize what is going on in Court when they plead guilty to a seemingly minor offense.

Leave a Reply