Category Archives: Crime , corrections and law enforcement

Descano Promises More Sunlight for Criminal Justice Data

Democracy thrives in sunlight

by James A. Bacon

Steve Descano, Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney, plans to begin publishing data on prosecutions as part of his campaign to root out alleged racial and socioeconomic disparities in the county’s criminal justice system, reports The Washington Post.

Data to be published online will cover such metrics as race, charging, sentences, bail decisions, and plea offers.

“You can’t fix what you don’t measure,” Descano said. “I’ve heard from a lot of members of our community they don’t know what goes on inside this building and they don’t feel comfortable that they are going to get a fair shake.”

This is a positive development. Open publication of the data is far preferable to the attorney general’s office compiling the data internally and selectively citing statistics that support a predetermined narrative. Anyone who values open, honest government should approve. In fact, Fairfax County might be setting a precedent that other Virginia localities should emulate. Continue reading

Time to Take the Fentanyl Scourge Seriously

Funeral service for Jayla McBroom, victim of a fentanyl overdose. Photo credit: Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

Drug dealers are lacing opioids, marijuana and cocaine with  fentanyl in the Washington area, reports The Washington Post. The city medical examiner identified the super-addictive and often deadly drug in 95% of the 85 overdose deaths through March this year. Law enforcement authorities are seeing similar increases in fentanyl overdoses in Arlington and Alexandria as well.

Writes the Post:

Emily Bentley, Alexandria’s opioid response coordinator, attributes the recent spike to dealers lacing substances with the cheaper, more addictive fentanyl. She noted that unsuspecting marijuana users may be taking drugs laced with the synthetic opioid, broadening the types of drug users who could be impacted.

Society has not yet come to grips with the fentanyl scourge. If we thought crack cocaine was bad in the 1980s, fentanyl is worse. Fentanyl is cheap, like crack, but it is even more addictive — reportedly 50 times more potent than heroin. Dealers have discovered they can create a market for their product by mixing it with other drugs. Thousands of Americans are dying. Continue reading

Virginia Governance in the Finest of Hands: Robert Jeffrey

Roanoke City Councilman Robert Jeffrey. Photo credit: Roanoke Times

Roanoke City Councilman Robert Jeffrey, 52, has been indicted by a grand jury on two charges of felony embezzlement. The case arose from a complaint from the Northwest Neighborhood Environmental Organization, an affordable housing organizations, reports The Roanoke Times. The charges did not specify the amount of money or value of property involved, but noted that the sum is “substantially above” the $1,000 threshold for felony charges. Jeffrey called the charges meritless, and the Roanoke Circuit Court did not judge him a flight risk. He took office in Roanoke City Council Jan. 1.


Even Western Virginia Has Police Shortages

A criminal justice academy in Salem

by James A. Bacon

Police departments in Virginia’s major urban centers are not the only law enforcement agencies where police officers are quitting in large numbers. Roanoke County in western Virginia saw 28 officers leave during 2020, about one fifth of the department, The Roanoke Times has reported. That was twice the number the department would experience in a normal year. The City of Roanoke has 38 vacancies, about 15% of its force.

Neighboring Montgomery County has lost 26 deputies, about 23% of its manpower over the past 12 months. That compares to only four officers departing in 2019, and two in 2018.

The Town of Christiansburg (in Montgomery County) has similar issues. “In years past we would typically receive between 50 and 100 applications when we advertised an opening,” Assistant Chief Chris Ramsey wrote in an email. “Now we are lucky to get ten or fifteen applicants for multiple openings. Only a fraction of those will meet the minimum qualifications and actually appear for applicant testing.” Continue reading

Don’t Blame Pandemic for Rise in U.S. Violent Crime

by Hans Bader

Recent spikes in violent crime aren’t due to COVID-19 or the economy, as suggested recently in a Virginian-Pilot article exploring causes of a spike in violence in Hampton Roads.

Murders frequently fall during recessions and times of economic hardship. In the U.S. homicides fell during the 2007-2009 recession. In many other countries, murder rates actually went down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, the murder rate fell in London by 16% in 2020, even though England suffered more from the pandemic than America did. England suffered far more economic harm than America did, with England’s economy shrinking 9.9% during 2020, compared to 3.5% in America. As Nicole Gelinas notes in the New York Post, murders also fell in other major countries in 2020:

How about Italy, hit hard and early by the pandemic? There, murders fell by 14%, to 271 from 315.

France with its troubled banlieues? The country’s murders were down 2% in 2020, to 863. Continue reading

Car Crashes Down, Fatalities Up in 2020

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Virginia transportation officials are puzzling over a divergence in road safety statistics during the COVID epidemic last year. The number of crashes on Virginia roads fell 15% to 20% below the level of a normal year while the number of fatalities climbed by 2.4% and serious injuries by 5.3%, reports The Virginia Mercury.

The numbers worsened in what officials termed the “belt, booze and speed” categories, with a 16.3% increase in speed-related deaths ad 13% in “unrestrained” deaths. In crashes in which wearing a seat belt was an option, 56% of the people who died weren’t wearing one. Continue reading

Virginia’s Parole Board Squirts WD-40 on That Revolving Door

by Kerry Dougherty

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

A guy commits murder and is sent to prison for decades. Like everyone else in the pen he insists he’s innocent. Finally, a gullible, soft-on-crime parole board buys his sob story and turns him loose on society. Next thing you know the ex-con’s committed more felonies and is back behind bars.

This was an everyday story in Virginia prior to 1995 when the commonwealth abolished parole.

But ever since the Terry McAuliffe/Ralph Northam appointees took over the Parole Board, more and more violent criminals have found their way back onto the streets. Predictably, some are back behind bars, including at least one sex offender.

Looks like the Virginia Parole Board squirted that revolving prison door with WD-40. Continue reading

Fairfax Group Forms to Defend Police

Action, reaction. Police Officers’ Defense Coalition organized to defend policy officers from super-woke prosecutors.

by James A. Bacon

When Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano ran for office in 2019, he promised to reform the county’s criminal justice system by offering defendants greater transparency about the evidence against them. “Virginia’s rules force defendants to try to craft a defense without most of the information one would need to do so,” he wrote in his election platform.

But Descano’s office has adopted a very different stance in its prosecution of a White Fairfax police officer accused of using excessive force, including a Taser, against a Black man.

As the trial date approaches in September, an attorney for Officer Tyler Timberlake wrote in a motion that prosecutors have yet to turn over a lengthy police report, a 911 call, a bystander video of the incident, and an interview with the victim. “The Commonwealth has repeatedly dragged its feet and has deprived Officer Timberlake of his due process and right to a fair trial,” the attorney wrote. Continue reading

Inexplicable — What Could Be Causing the Surge in Violence?

Portsmouth resident Ebony Pope was hospitalized after being struck by random gunfire. Still suffering from some nerve damage and pain with digestion, she avoids crowds and standing by windows. Photo credit: Daily Press

by James A. Bacon

Wow, you know the crime surge is getting bad when the wokest newsroom in the Commonwealth — which apologized for the whiteness of the reporters writing a series about continued racial segregation in Hampton Roads — starts publishing articles about it.

What’s hilarious about today’s article in The Virginian-Pilot is that reporters and the experts they quoted are baffled about what might be causing the crime wave. Could it be tied to COVID? High unemployment? Social anxiety? Too much free time? It’s such a mystery!

The numbers are clear enough. Sentara Norfolk General, the region’s Level 1 trauma center “pulled out more bullets, stitched more stab wounds and treated more assault victims than in recent history,” the Pilot tells us. In 2020 — a year mostly spent in lockdown, the article notes — the hospital saw 38% more violence-related trauma patients than the year before. Patients with gunshot wounds jumped from 328 to 466. That may be just a bad weekend by Chicago standards, but its a stark reversal from two or three decades of declining violence in Hampton Roads.

The numbers for 2021 — a year when COVID receded and the lockdown eased, I would add — are even worse. Continue reading

Who’s Setting Car Fires in Norfolk’s Ghent Neighborhood?

by Kerry Dougherty

Who’s setting those car fires in Ghent?

Oh, you haven’t heard about the arsons? Buckle up.

Last Friday night, as rain drenched Norfolk, Patrick and Tiffany McGee and their two young sons were watching TV in their picturesque Cape Cod with a picket fence on the corner of Redgate and Claremont Avenues in West Ghent.

According to a witness report filed by Patrick McGee, Tiffany saw a figure outside of their home and by the time her husband — a former Navy SEAL — opened the door and sprinted outside he found their two cars engulfed in flames. Patrick got his family out of the back of the house and to safety while neighbors who’d gathered near the inferno called for help.

The fire trucks arrived, one after another, and finally put out the conflagration which had spread to the attached garage and nearby trees. Continue reading

Does Richmond Have a Police Shortfall?

Photo credit: Justin Morrison, Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Two billboards have popped up in the City of Richmond suggesting that poor pay and understaffing of the police department were putting public safety in jeopardy. Police Chief Gerald M. Smith responded in a public statement that, yes, violent crime is up this year compared to 2020 but that’s mainly because the COVID-19 lockdown kept people off the streets and out of trouble last year.

“We are not saying that violent crime isn’t going up,” Smith said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We are giving you a depiction of the overall, big picture. It is going up as compared to the asterisk year 2020.”

The group behind the billboards represents roughly 350 Richmond police officers. “It is a crisis when you have so many experienced officers leaving the department at such an alarming rate,” said spokesman Brendan Leavy, a Richmond detective. “There is a mass exodus of experienced officers quitting.”

Has the two-decade decline in crime rates reversed itself? That’s an important question. So is the issue raised by Leavey: Have low pay and low morale led to police understaffing? One might think that is an easy question to that answer. But there is a large discrepancy between the numbers reported by the City of Richmond and those contained in the Virginia State Police’s “Crime in Virginia 2020” report. Continue reading

How’s Descano’s Social-Justice Prosecution Policy Working Out?

A Fairfax County police car vandalized with spray paint in a 2016 incident.

by James A. Bacon

Steve Descano was elected Commonwealth Attorney of Fairfax County in 2019 on the promise that he would end mass incarceration by winding down the prosecution of marijuana possession and raising the threshold to $1,500 for larceny prosecutions. As he stated in his reform platform, “I will not ruin someone’s life because of an impulsive decision to steal an iPhone.”

It did not take long for his policies to spark a backlash. Charging Descano with pleading felonies to misdemeanors, a failure to punish reckless drivers,  and abandoning victims of violent crimes, a Fairfax citizens group has launched a recall initiative.

With the publication of the Crime in Virginia 2020 report, we have the data to get a better feeling for what Descano was up to last year. The statistics for Virginia’s most populous county indicate that he was as good as his word — he significantly reduced prosecutions for shoplifting and drug-related crimes. The big question is whether Descano’s brand of social justice will make Fairfax County less livable for law-abiding, middle-class families. Continue reading

Do Fatal Police Shootings Indicate Racism?

Sources: “Crime in Virginia 2020” and The Washington Post.

by James A. Bacon

As protesters marched in many Virginia cities last year in protest of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., many Virginia politicians suggested that the kind of police abuses occurring in other states were endemic here in Virginia. The General Assembly enacted numerous laws to reduce mass incarceration and curtail perceived police abuses. All the protests and lawmaking occurred in a factual vacuum, however. Was there any truth to the proposition that Blacks were more likely than Whites to be killed by police here in Virginia? Is law enforcement in Virginia “systemically racist”? No one provided any data to confirm or falsify the proposition.

Data does exist. The Virginia State Police published Monday its “Crime in Virginia 2020” report. The report devotes a section to officer-involved shootings, of which there were 13 resulting in fatalities and 19 in injuries. The report does not identify the race of the police shooting victims, but by cross-referencing the published information with the Washington Post police shootings database, I was able to identify the race/ethnicity of 12 of the 13 men (they were all men) killed by police. Six were White, four Black, one Hispanic, and one Asian.

Do those numbers support the conclusion that police are more likely to resort to deadly violence against Blacks than Whites? It depends on what you use as your yardstick for comparison. Continue reading

Wait, What? Virginia Law Enforcement Employment Increased 13% in 2020?

Full-Time Law Enforcement Employees, Virginia, Oct. 31, 2020. Source: Crime in Virginia 2020

In conservative media, we often hear how law-enforcement morale plummeted last year in the face of withering criticism from politicians, media and even the public. We read of rising retirements and resignations and of shrinking recruitment, especially in big cities where anti-police rhetoric is strongest. So, what’s the story in Virginia?

If the data from the Crime in Virginia 2020 report is to be believed, local governments in the Old Dominion dramatically boosted the number of law enforcement personnel last year. Full-time law-enforcement employment as of Oct. 31 rose to more than 27,400 — up from 24,400 the previous year.

Employment by the Virginia State Police and college police forces was fairly stable, but the number of county law enforcement officers surged 24%, city officers by 26%, and “other agency” officers by 40%. Continue reading

Assaults on Police Up Slightly in 2020

by James A. Bacon

Last year was unprecedented for the number of street protests and anti-police rhetoric in Virginia. Police morale plummeted in the face of public hostility. How did the wave of unrest translate into physical danger for police?

According to the Crime in Virginia 2020 report, which  tracks the number of Virginia police officers killed and assaulted, there was an uptick in anti-police violence — to 1,973 assaults on officers in 2020 from 1,939 the previous year, an increase of 1.7%.

But the data does shows changes in circumstances. Although the number of officers injured in “civil disorders” was relatively trivial compared to all sources of assaults, it did triple year-over-year to 33. Protests have simmered down this year, so that number is likely to subside. Alarmingly, however, the number of law enforcement officers killed in “ambush” attacks doubled from seven to 15. Continue reading