Does Fairfax Have a Criminal-First, Victim-Last Mindset?

by James A. Bacon

Dozens of current and former Fairfax County police officers belonging to the Fairfax County Police Association gathered in a town hall last week with Attorney General Jason Miyares. Their message: recent Virginia legislation combined with a change in prosecutorial policies by the county’s Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano, are making it harder for them to do their job.

As NBC-Channel 4 summed up the meeting, “They claim they’re having a tougher time bringing charges in some cases because magistrates are interpreting cases more liberally. They’ve also expressed concerns about inexperience on the part of some assistant commonwealth’s attorneys and say some cases are being dropped.”

“I think you’ve had a serious problem of criminal-first, victim-last mindset,” Miyares told the group.

Descano’s response to the TV station: crime in Fairfax County is down. “Over the last two years, crime in Fairfax County is down almost 10%, and we are the safest jurisdiction in the entire country with a population of over 1 million people.”
Really, crime is down 10%? What does that mean?

I went to the 2019 and 2021 Crime in Virginia reports to look up the numbers. Presumably, Descano was referring to “Group A Offenses,” which include crimes against persons, property and society. The total number offenses reported did, in fact, decline from 37,200 to 33,300 — a total of roughly 3,900 crimes, or about 10% — over the two years. 

But dig deeper, and you’ll see nearly the entire decline can be attributed to the falloff in drug/narcotics violations — a reduction of 3,600 offenses — coinciding with the decriminalization of marijuana possession.

Fairfax saw a reduction of another 700 offenses categorized as shoplifting, the prosecution of which “progressive” commonwealth attorneys have downplayed as discriminatory against the poor and minorities. In Fairfax the number of shoplifting arrests fell from 235 in 2019 to 150 in 2021, which might reflect a change of policing practice in response to signals from Descano’s office. However, no data are reported for the number of shoplifting prosecutions, so that’s only a hunch.

Meanwhile, the number of motor vehicle thefts surged from 869 in 2019 to 1,229 in 2021, while the number of homicides jumped from 14 to 26. (Other violent crimes like rape and aggravated assault were down marginally.)

The best that Descano can reasonably argue is that crime has remained stable on his watch. If the total number of offenses reported is down, the reasons are that marijuana has been decriminalized and, possibly, that retailers are learning that it is pointless to report many shoplifting incidents.

As for having a lower crime rate than the nation’s largest localities, that has likely always been true. Fairfax County is one of the nation’s highest-income jurisdictions, and it has a poverty rate of only 6.1%. That compares to a 16.1% national poverty rate. Insofar as crime is correlated with poverty and rates of educational attainment, Fairfax County enjoys an immense socio-economic head start.

On the other hand, I’d like to see some hard evidence from the Fairfax County Police Association to back police claims as well. For what categories of cases are prosecutors not pressing charges? What kind of cases are prosecutors dropping? How many criminals have gotten off the hook? Can police point to incidents in which the easy treatment of criminals has led to additional crimes? It would help them make their case if they could document their claims.

Does Fairfax County really have a criminal-first, victim-last mindset? I’m open to the idea that it does. But I’d like to see more proof. And I expect many voters would, too.

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12 responses to “Does Fairfax Have a Criminal-First, Victim-Last Mindset?”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Good analysis. Thanks for asking for more than rhetoric from the police association. As for their complaints about magistrates, that group does not come under Descano; they are part of the judicial branch.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Does Fairfax County really have a criminal-first, victim-last mindset? I’m open to the idea that it does.”

    from the likes of Attorney General Jason Miyares ?

    looks pretty political to me.

    But I give JAB credit for a fair analysis – which really does beg the question as to what Miyares is doing.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Geez, somebody’s running for gubna or somethin’

    1. What was good for the Herring is good for the next fish in the barrel…

  4. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    Shoplifting in Fairfax County ranges from the kid stealing from the local grocery store to organized crime. As posted earlier, a few years ago, several of my friends and I got a tour of the FCPD office at the Tysons Corner Mall provided to the Department free of charge by Macerich.

    There were about 6 or 7 officers on duty plus a couple of detectives. We watched through a one-way mirror a detective interrogating a suspect who had been arrested earlier in the day loading about $50,000 of merchandise into her car. She was part of a Massachusetts gang with warehouses in New Jersey. It was explained to us that this is a common experience.

    Additionally, I was informed on multiple occasions that many of the thieves take Metro from D.C. and Maryland to steal at the Malls (Galleria also). FCPD research showed that there’s a correlation between fare jumpers and thieves. Needless to say, that a unified camera system in Tysons that was available to the Police in near real time would be very beneficial in preventing big-time thefts.

    I have no idea what Descano and the Police are doing about this. Since much of this is interstate commerce, maybe the Feds should bypass the Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney’s office.

  5. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

    Fairfax PD is in the TV news up here, the Chief has just announced an official staffing shortage emergency. Sen Surovell summed it up on TV as a low pay problem. There is an 8% raise in 2022, but inflation is 9% so they are actually getting a pay cut (in real dollars). Of course cost of living here is such that we probably need “imports” from other jurisdictions to fill the squad. I would say the declining crime numbers correlate well with the declining police officer numbers. I’ll leave to the statistic experts if that correlation is coincidence or not.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      The crime numbers do not reflect arrests, but reported crimes. Therefore, if there is any relationship, the “crime numbers” should be going up, not down, as the number of police officers declines.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        So when we get to zero cops, we will have zero crimes? And not need a Commonwealth’s Attorney? Possibly a great money saver.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          so do more police generate more crime or higher crime numbers?

  6. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    No fair looking past the headline numbers, Jim! The straight-faced claim that “crime” is down so much when it is largely just those two categories is pretty brazen. I could never be a Democrat….

    But the AG hosting or attending that meeting and the resulting publicity seem a bit of political theater, rather than constructive engagement. When does that CA face the voters again? And another relevant question: Is there a bit of a competition underway between different groups seeking to become the official union for those officers?

  7. Lefty665 Avatar

    A reminder, it is not just crimes in Fairfax that turning perps loose causes:

    Soros donated to one prosecutor (Descano) in Fairfax County, Virginia, who needlessly released a man who went on a spree shooting homeless people up and down the East Coast. The alleged perpetrator, Gerald Brevard, had been apprehended for abduction and attempted rape, but Soros-backed prosecutor Steve Descano let him plead down to lesser charges and even dropped several slam-dunk charges that police later brought against him for a separate incident. As a direct result of Descano’s decisions, Brevard was free and out on the street when the homeless shootings occurred. Blood is on his hands and on those of his donor.

  8. vicnicholls Avatar

    Yes. Take a look at what judges did in the past and what they do now. Tie that into the cases – from small things to larger ones. Its noticeable even in small things like traffic tickets.

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