Category Archives: Crime and corrections

Bacon Bits: Cloudy Day Edition

Neo-Nazies on the loose. I’ve been highly critical of Attorney General Mark Herring for spinning state crime statistics to imply that there has been a surge in white supremacist hate crimes in Virginia. But that’s not to say there aren’t hateful white supremacists residing in the the state. The Daily Beast describes how an FBI crackdown on the so-called “Atomwaffen Division,” which it describes as a “homicidal neo-Nazi guerilla organization,” has netted criminal charges against two alleged members of the group’s Virginia cell. In June, the FBI arrested Brian Patricks Baynes, of Fairfax, on gun possession charges. And in September, the bureau arrested 21-year-old Andrew Jon Thomasberg, of McLean. The white-supremacist threat is real, and it must be taken seriously. But let’s not blow that threat out of proportion.

The Staunton Miracle. Rural Virginia may be in an economic funk, but Virginia’s smaller metros seem to be holding up pretty well. The Staunton/Waynesboro labor market has the lowest unemployment rate of any in the state — 2.5%, according to August 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by the News Leader. Next lowest: Charlottesville and Winchester at 2.6%, Harrisonburg at 2.7%, and Roanoke at 2.8%. Among major metros, Richmond is the lowest at 2.9%. We hear all the time — and I have perpetuated this narrative — that most of the jobs are going to the big metros. Is this true? We can’t tell from unemployment data alone. We also need to look at job creation, under-employment and workforce-participation rates. Regardless, it’s good to see that almost everyone who wants a job in small-metro Virginia seems to have one.

A voice for the voiceless. The Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, a former sponsor of this blog, is making progress toward building Virginia’s first coalition to address the affordability crisis in higher education. The Virginia College Affordability Policy Council met last week to discuss solutions to problems of affordability and workforce readiness. Co-chairs include James V. Koch, former president of Old Dominion University, and Brett A. Vassey, president of the Virginia Manufacturers Association. The group has recruited a wide range of businesses and trade associations as members. You can view Koch’s presentation here.

Bacon Bits: River Preservation, Truth in Tuition, and Election Interference

Goat Island

Good deed of the day. Riverside Outfitters, which provides guided kayak, raft, tube, and paddleboard trips, has paid $11,000 to purchase Goat Island, a one-acre islet in the James River. The outfitting company will make the island openly available for public use as a destination for canoers and paddleboarders, reports Richmond BizSense. The company plans to rid non-native plants from the islet and, if legal, bring back some goats, but has no plans to develop it. The James River may not be as big and powerful as other rivers, but it is more beautiful than most. While other metropolitan develop their riverfronts, the Richmond region has moved to preserve the James as an environmental and recreational treasure. Smart move!

Truth in tuition. Randolph College has slashed its list price for tuition, room, and board from $54,101 to $36,000. Pursuing a high-tuition, high-discount model, the small liberal arts college near Lynchburg had been discounting heavily from that price. But administrators concluded that the high sticker price was scaring away potential applicants, reports the News & Advance. Not realizing that the average discount rate for freshmen at private colleges averages more than 50%, many families don’t even bother applying to schools with high list prices. Randolph College, which has 620 students enrolled, hopes to increase the entering class by 5% yearly over the next five years.

Dodge Challenger has become a verb. Daniel McMahon of Brandon, Fla., has been arrested for charges relating to cyber-stalking and threats that led to an African-American activist, Don Gathers, dropping out of a race for Charlottesville City Council. McMahon, a white supremacist, “was motivated by racial animus and used his social-media accounts to threaten and intimidate a potential candidate for elective office,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, in a statement. “Hey Antifa, it’s simple,” McMahon wrote online, reports the Washington Post. “Wanna know how to not get Dodge Challenged or shot? Don’t attack Right Wingers ever.” James Fields, the white supremacist who killed Heather Heyer during the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville two years ago, drove a Dodge Challenger. Disgusting.

— JAB

Good News, Bad News on Crime Trends

Getty Images

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Each year the state produces six-year forecasts of state and local criminal offender populations. These forecasts are ultimately adopted by an interagency, inter-disciplinary committee, chaired by the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

The process of producing the forecasts is fairly complicated and stretches over several months, involving numerous meetings. I will provide a more detailed description later when the final forecasts are agreed upon and released, which will be in October.

In the meantime, one of the main benefits of the process, aside from the forecasts themselves, is a comprehensive look at criminal justice trends in Virginia. This information was gathered from the research of analysts in several agencies and presented to the Offender Population Forecast Policy Committee in late August. The presentation went into a great detail and consisted of over 70 Power Point slides. Needless to say, I will limit this report to a few of the most salient charts.  Continue reading

Virginia’s Human Trafficking Horror

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s elected officials don’t agree about much. But they do share one common interest across the partisan divide: fighting human trafficking. Even in our hyper-partisan world, Democrats and Republicans still can unite over the proposition that sexual enslavement and exploitation is a bad thing.

In October of 2018, the Human Trafficking Institute released a report in which Virginia ranked sixth in the nation for active human trafficking cases. That comes from the Virginia Tech Collegiate Times. According to Sen Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that there were more than 950 reported cases of human trafficking between December 2007 and June 2017.

Do a Google search for “Virginia human trafficking,” however, and see what results you get. Most reporting on the subject comes from local TV stations. Virginia’s major newspapers have produced almost nothing worthy of note. Indeed, in the top four pages of search results, the only report listed from the Richmond Times-Dispatch was an article describing how the Henrico County police chief debunked social media reports of human trafficking in Short Pump. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Numerological Edition

$6.5 billion. That’s how much Dominion Energy estimates it will cost Virginia ratepayers if the state signs up with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program designed to reduce CO2 emissions. The utility said it would have to shutter four coal-fired power plants and replace their generating capacity with additional solar, natural gas, and/or possibly a pump-storage facility in Tazewell County, reports the Daily Press. The figure exceeds the $3.3-$5.9 billion previously estimated by State Corporation Commission staff, and conflicts with arguments by others that under the RGGI electric bills actually would go down.

Thirty percent. That is the percentage of police-involved-shooting incidents that local police and sheriffs departments failed to report to the Virginia State Police for compilation on its annual Crime in Virginia reports, concludes the (Lynchburg) News & Advance in an investigation of the data since mid-2016. (In the 2018 Crime in Virginia report, state police listed 28 state-involved shootings.) Law enforcement officials attributed the missing data to routine errors and confusion over recent changes in reporting requirements. Civil rights advocates want to expand the data reported to include the age, race, and gender of the victim.

14,000 acres. That’s how much farm and forest the Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund (VFPF) has conserved since 2008. The Fund surpassed the 100th-tract mark this summer, an event that Gov. Ralph Northam celebrated with a visit to Messick’s Farm Market in Fauquier County last week, reports the Culpeper Star-Exponent. The governor touted the value role of conservation in promoting agriculture, tourism, and forestry, Virginia’s three largest industries. The VFPF has helped 16 local governments finance purchase-of-development rights for 102 easements on 13,917 acres. The purchases cost $32.8 million. The preservation fund provided $11.9 million; the rest came from local government and other sources.

Dude in a 7-Eleven Shoots Two Robbers, Kills One….

Store clerk Barrie Engel and the silhouette of a Virginia Beach man who shot two robbers appear in this Virginian-Pilot photo.

A 37-year-old Virginia Beach man was buying a Big Gulp at a 7-Eleven when two armed robbers burst into the store. The clerk and intruders started arguing and tensions quickly escalated. Worried for the clerk’s safety, the bystander pulled out a concealed weapon and fired, hitting one robber in the neck and the other twice in the chest, killing him.

When the police arrived a few moments later, they placed the shooter in handcuffs and hauled him down to the station. But prosecutors declined to file charges. The store clerk, Barrie Engel, thinks the man was a hero. “It was a blessing that he was there at that time,” she told the Virginian-Pilot. “It could have turned out a lot different. It could have been us that died.”

As the debate over gun control rages, an argument we hear frequently from gun-rights advocates is that Americans have a right to self-defense and that an armed population acts as a deterrent to violence crime. Does this incident support or refute their argument? Continue reading

Best Gun Violence Idea Not Proposed in VA?

Grandstanding with guns on the House of Delegates floor. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

by Steve Haner

The most effective gun violence prevention idea presented to the Virginia State Crime Commission Monday was one seldom discussed in the state:  Add violent misdemeanors to the list of convictions that prevent gun purchases from a licensed dealer.

Four states, including Maryland, have that provision and a Boston University study found it has lowered the firearms homicide rate better than 25 percent in those states. Right now, extending the ban from felons to violent misdemeanants is not among the scores of bills pending at Virginia’s special session on gun violence.

One of the least effective proposals, but one always at the top of many lists?  Prohibiting the sale of so-called assault or assault-style rifles.  The research on that is clear, Boston University research fellow Claire Boine said in one of the most useful evidence-based presentations from the long day. You can see her slides here and the full study hereContinue reading

Gun Issues Return to Capitol Monday, Tuesday

by Steve Haner

Proposed firearms regulations will pack a General Assembly meeting room Monday and Tuesday, and for that portion of the population not already locked into an ideological position either way, it could be useful to pay attention.

The Republican majorities have taken some political bashing for failing to act on the flood of proposals, many previously seen and rejected, that showed up when Governor Ralph Northam sought to railroad them through a hasty special session after the Virginia Beach shooting.  But the ideas are going to get a better hearing at the Crime Commission next week than they would have when introduced.  Continue reading

Marijuana legalization in Colorado: the good, the bad and the ugly

High there!  As Virginia politicians scramble to stake out positions on reforming marijuana laws in the Old Dominion ahead of this November’s elections, it is useful to look at the actual experience in Colorado after five years of legal recreational marijuana sales.  There is no universally accepted source of truth regarding the success or failure of Colorado’s marijuana legalization. However, many articles have been written regarding Colorado’s experience and the general perception seems to be positive albeit with some significant concerns. As Virginia moves down the road of marijuana reform its political class would be well advised to heed the lessons of those who have already gone down that path. Continue reading

Recidivism Revisited

Sussex I State Prison

As has been noted in previous posts on this blog (here and here), the latest three-year recidivism rate of offenders released from the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) was the lowest in the nation. In fact, DOC had the lowest rate in the nation for the last three reporting periods.  DOC can justly be proud of this record.

Nevertheless, a closer look at the data reveals some troubling trends.  Before delving into this data, in order to understand the data and ensuing discussion, there are some terms that need defining and clarifying: Continue reading

2018: Murders Fall, Assaults and Sex Crimes Nudge Higher


Virginia media gave scant attention to the publication of the 2018 Crime in Virginia report — perhaps because there were no dramatic headlines to be dredged from the statistics. The most encouraging news is that the murder rate declined measurably — from 5.37 murders per 100,000 population in 2017 to 4.59 murders in 2018 — thus continuing a reversal of a five-year upswing earlier in the decade.

The numbers for aggravated assault (assaults resulting in an injury) aren’t as reassuring. The rate per 100,000 nudged up to 120 in 2018 from 119 the previous year. Taking a longer-term perspective: After an encouraging decline in the late 2000s, the rate of aggravated assaults has leveled off, showing no improvement since 2011. In some ways this number is more meaningful than the murder rate — Virginians are about 25 times more likely to be assaulted than murdered. Continue reading

Virginia-Based Capital One Hacked

Who let the dogs data out?  McLean-based Capital One has been hacked in one of the largest data breaches ever. A single hacker with apparent mental health issues managed to copy 100 million credit card applications and accounts. The seeming ease with which the hacker compromised what should have been ironclad security is shocking. The bank’s stumbling and fumbling explanations of what happened have not helped Capital One’s cause.

The hacker who couldn’t shoot straight.  The FBI has arrested 33-year-old Seattle resident Paige Thompson in connection with the data breach. Ms Thompson, who goes by the online name of “erratic,” made so many mistakes that her capture was tantamount to turning herself in. Slate reports, “According to a federal indictment, Thompson posted the data she pilfered on her GitHub profile on April 21, where she had also uploaded her résumé with her full name listed and details about her employment history.” Erratic indeed … not exactly up to the standards of Frank Abagnale. Ms. Thompson also posted her interest in euthanizing her cat and committing herself to a mental institution on social media. Continue reading

Differences in Arrest Rates for Marijuana Offenses across Virginia Localities

Data exhaust. In a relatively recent BR post “Marijuana arrests and racism in Virginia (especially Arlington County)” I examined the disparity between black and white Virginians when it comes to arrests for marijuana possession. My conclusion that African-American Virginians are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession came from data generated by a VCU Capital News Service study on the matter.  Helpfully, the VCU / CNS article provided a link to a spreadsheet containing the raw data (you can download the same spreadsheet from the source link under the Datawrapper graphic). As I’ve continued to examine the VCU / CNS data I’ve noticed that it’s not just your race that affects the odds of being arrested for marijuana possession.  Where you are in Virginia matters too.  A lot. Continue reading

True: Marijuana Arrests in Virginia Still Climbing

Based on data from the latest Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia” report, Attorney General Mark R. Herring recently noted that Virginia arrests for marijuana-related charges increased 3.5% in 2018, capping off a tripling of marijuana-related arrests since 2002.

“While other states are moving to a more sensible approach to cannabis, Virginia is still moving in the wrong direction. It makes absolutely no sense,”Herring said in a press release. “Marijuana arrests are now at their highest level in at least two decades and maybe ever, meaning that even more Virginians, especially young people and people of color, are being saddled with criminal records that can drastically affect their lives. Now is the time to put a stop to this costly, unfair, and ineffective approach, and to pursue a better, smarter, fairer course.”

Yesterday I promised to take a closer look at the crime data to see if Herring’s representation of the marijuana-related arrest trends is fair. As far as I can tell, it is. But the conclusions he draws may not be. Continue reading

Police Antisocial Behavior, Not Addictions

It’s one thing to be intoxicated — another to pass out on a public park bench.

In an 8-7 vote, a federal appeals court has struck down a Virginia law punishing “habitual” drunks. The law targeted homeless people struggling with alcoholism, thus “criminalizing an illness,” reports the Washington Post. Further, the court found the law to be unconstitutionally vague.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue. Alcohol addiction is an illness, and money might well be better spent providing treatment to homeless drunks rather than incarcerating them. On the other hand, the law provided local police a tool for maintaining public order. Eliminating the law invites drunks and derelicts to occupy public spaces where they might infringe upon the rights of others.

To my mind, it is crucial to distinguish between the illness and the behavior — and this applies to intoxication with marijuana and other drugs as well as alcohol. While addiction should not be a crime, police should address public intoxication when a person’s behavior becomes threatening or disruptive.

In perusing the Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia 2018” report, I note the following numbers (combining figures for adults and juvenile): Continue reading