Fredericksburg Virginia Crime Rate Map (Courtesy Neighborhood Scout). Mary Washington University is the light sliver in the center of the worst crime

by James C. Sherlock

There are two major reasons that Virginians organize themselves into local governments:

  1. public safety; and
  2. public schools for their children.

Fredericksburg has proven unable to provide either competently. It’s record is unapproachably bad given its assets.

We have documented its deplorable schools. When I wrote in that piece that they need a new superintendent, I failed to understand the crime picture and undershot the solution.

In 2021, the State Police reported that Fredericksburg had an incredibly high Group A crime rate (Crimes against persons, property and society).

Nearly the worst in the state. I admit that it shocked me.

Neither the crime rate nor the bad schools finds easy excuses in demographics or poverty. I will offer the census figures to prove it.

Fredericksburg’s schools and crime rates are literally breathtakingly bad for no identifiable reason other than governmental incompetence.

The city may wish to consider reverting to a town, either by vote of the City Council or by citizen initiative, and let either Stafford County or Spotsylvania County take over responsibilities its current government has proven it cannot handle.

Demographics. Other than demographic differences listed below, which normally differentiate a city from a county, there is really nothing about Fredericksburg demographically, compared to neighboring counties , that points to a high crime crime:

  • more poverty (though Fredericksburg poverty is about the same as the U.S. as a whole);
  • fewer persons per household;
  • lower owner-occupied housing unit rate;
  • high number of children in single-parent households (38%), but considerably lower than in Richmond (52%) and Petersburg (52%) which are both double the United States and Virginia averages.

The race and Hispanic origin composition of Fredericksburg is very similar to adjacent counties. More people rent than own, but the median value of owner-occupied housing units is higher than in adjacent counties. Fredericksburg  has the highest percentage of people with college degrees among those three jurisdictions.

Fredericksburg has the highest labor participation rate and nearly three times as many employer establishments per person as the two adjacent counties. Retail sales per capita, a significant source of tax revenue, are two times that of Spotsylvania and nearly four times that of Stafford.

Ignoring median household income because of Fredericksburg’s smaller households, per capita income in Fredericksburg is only $2,000 less than in Spotsylvania, and $6,500 (15%) less than in Stafford.

Costs of being a city. The administrative overhead for a city as small as Fredericksburg is a big burden for taxpayers.

  • As a city it must have a city manager and staff;
  • As a city it must provide a Superintendent and staff to oversee four schools;
  • As a city it must maintain its own Commonwealth’s Attorney and courts, Treasurer, Commissioner of the Revenue, Elections and Registrar, Jail and Corrections. It must pay 100% of the local costs for Social Services and the Health Department.

Law Enforcement.

The law enforcement system in Fredericksburg consists of the police department assisted by the Spotsylvania sheriff’s department and the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Astoundingly, Fredericksburg in 2021 reported a Group A crime rate of 9,317 per 100,000 residents. For comparison, in the same year the Group A crime rates per 100,000 in other Virginia cities and the two counties adjacent to Fredericksburg were:

  • Portsmouth 8,064,
  • Martinsville 6,892,
  • Richmond 6,163
  • Petersburg 5,050,
  • Stafford 2,956; and
  • Spotsylvania 1,466.

Fredericksburg citizens have higher incomes, are better educated, older and whiter than the cities listed above that have lower crime rates. By comparison, for example, per capita income in Fredericksburg is 50% higher than in Petersburg, yet rent is lower in Fredericksburg.

In actual numbers, 3,027 Group A offenses were committed in Fredericksburg, for which 740 arrests were made as of March 16, 2022.

The arrest rate for 2021 crimes was thus 24% by that date. That might sound low, but it is in the general range of other jurisdictions in the state.  So, the issue does not appear from statistics to be with the police. But the arrest rate is clearly not deterring crime.

Let’s look at the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Fredericksburg’s Commonwealth’s Attorney is Elizabeth “Libby” Humphries. Her positions on the conduct of her office are reliably progressive. She writes that she is a problem solver.

Just apparently not yet.

She and her whole office are gone if reversion takes effect.

Schools. No one who has kids, wants them in public schools, and understands the performance of the school system, or just wants them to be safe would move to Fredericksburg.

Indeed Mary Washington University is handicapped in recruitment by the crime statistics and many of its student teachers must seek other options than Fredericksburg schools.

For a full discussion of the crisis of the public schools, see here. Some examples:

As for the racial and ethnic mix of the schools, it is considerably more balanced than many urban school districts, but people who can afford it educate their kids elsewhere. Given the academic performance, so would you.

Attendance is the tell. The kids have voted with their feet.

You are not reading that wrong: 70.5% chronic absenteeism, defined as a minimum of 10% of classes missed. By far the highest in the state.  This past year, chronic absenteeism improved to 36%. A whole generation of Fredericksburg school kids has been cheated of its prospects.

The school issues are not in funding. Never were.

Fredericksburg spends  $2,000 more per pupil than adjacent counties. That is not all school division overhead.  It pays its teachers more than either adjacent county. VDOE reports Fredericksburg’s average annual teacher salary this year is $62,842; Spotsylvania $59,078; and Stafford $55,414.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney has shared with us that she:

…has served on workgroups to … improve local services to address truancy without court referrals.

Good to know.

I am told by people I trust that the Superintendent is a fine person and wonderfully qualified. But Fredericksburg only has four public schools. If the incumbents had shown themselves capable of running them, there would be no need for this discussion.

The way out. First let me say I don’t get it. Fredericksburg? This whole situation is worthy of study by MWU sociologists. But that won’t make the city any safer or the schools better.

But the General Assembly has provided an exit ramp. Fredericksburg has an option under Chapter 41 of the Code of Virginia to transition to town status.

Under that section of the Code, counties have no voice in the matter of city reversions, so it is up to Fredericksburg.

Reversion to town status may prove the only way left to cut the dual Gordian knots of its dreadful school system and failed law enforcement that have foiled so many attempts to untie them.

And to provide safety to the people of Fredericksburg and give their children a chance in life.

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38 responses to “Will Fredericksburg Revert to Being a Town?”

  1. LesGabriel Avatar

    Geographically, Fredericksburg should it revert to town status would logically become part of Spotsylvania rather than Stafford, there being no discernible dividing line between it and the former such as the Rappahannock River. The regional newspaper, the Free Lance Star, however, currently has a vendetta against the Spotsylvania School Board, and would probably prefer a dysfunctional City school system.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      The way I understand that section of the law, it is up to Fredericksburg to choose. There is nothing in the law about a river. Big picture, Fredericksburg has proven cannot function as a city.

  2. While I’m certainly not disagreeing with your conclusion, we should be careful with the geography discussed here. The crime rate map at the top of your post highlights in blue the City of Fredericksburg plus large portions of adjacent Spotsylvania and Stafford Counties. If you want to see the actual size of Fredericksburg City, just search for it in Google Maps and you will be shown the City’s boundary. Yes, inside the City is all dark blue (except for that MWU ‘sliver’) but so are a large adjacent chunk of Spotsylvania and two larger chunks of Stafford. A lot of Spotsylvania south of town is nearly as bad.

    I agree with the previous comment that if reversion took place, the City would revert back into Spotsylvania (from whence it came), not Stafford across the River. So, where would that leave Spotsylvania County but with an impossible mess to deal with? What would that accomplish? Poverty and lack of education look like the demographic issues here. Poverty is one of those factors only tax-and-spend Democrats seem able to address constructively these days and it’s obvious that the City’s taxpayers don’t have the resources to tackle the economic need without help from somewhere. As for lack of education, whatever happened to the State’s ability to identify and intervene in failing local public school systems — why isn’t that happening in Fredericksburg?

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      The state has no authority to intervene in failing school systems except to make them come up with correction plans. For years on end.

      The worst ones got a get out of jail free accreditation with COVID. Now the get three years or something to screw up before another correction plan. We briefly had a law that permitted state takeover, but it was determined to require a constitutional amendment.

      Also, Fredericksburg is not poor compared to some of the cities I listed. Not even close. Just incompetently run.

      Finally, I know that Fredericksburg is less than 11 sq. miles. The map was the best illustration of the high crime zones. Note it is a map for realtors. Should send a signal to the residents about home value effects.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      “So, where would that leave Spotsylvania County but with an impossible mess to deal with?”

      Travis Bird, the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Spotsylvania, was Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney of the City of Fredericksburg from 2004 – 2015. He knows the territory, and has been a far more effective CA than uber-progressive “Libby” the current CA in Fredericksburg.

      Spotsylvania, even with turmoil in the School Board and Superintendent’s office, runs a better school system than Fredericksburg with nearly the same demographics.

      Fredericksburg would not be a tax burden. It is easily self-supporting financially.

      My only concern is really for the children of Fredericksburg who are being denied an education. The rest is details.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    The leaders of Fredericksburg have long roots to the town except one. I must assume that the citizens are fine with the results. We will find out when they are up for reelection. It has been an independent city since 1879. I don’t see them rejoining Spotsylvania. Big differences between the town and the county going back eons ago.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I don’t assume the citizens are fine with the results.

      My research into newspaper reports both local and regional indicates no one has ever presented these two sets of facts about schools and crime together as did this article.

      I also doubt they will revert, because of both inertia and the influence of those that would lose their jobs with reversion: City Council, School Board, Superintendent of Schools office, Courts, Commonwealth’s Attorney.

      That pretty much describes the list of people responsible for the dreadful states of affairs in the streets and the schools. Reversion would accomplish a clean sweep.

      My hope is that with this column I will stir up the newspaper, business owners, Mary Washington University and the hospitals to both apply pressure and step up to help.

      Mary Washington University, in particular, has a big dog in the fight. Its enrollment decreased over 16% between the fall of 2018 and the fall of 2021 compared to total state public colleges and universities rise of 0.8% over the same period of time. I absolutely link that to its Fredericksburg location. Parents visit the school, look outside the walls, and it helps make the decision. Mary Washington will help solve the problems of Fredericksburg or die.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Fabian socialism rules in Fredericksburg now.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          Agree. Just trying to save the lives of the children they are destroying.

          I suspect that seldom comes up at a school board meeting. When the subject of attendance in the 2020-21 school year was raised in Jan 2021, the Superintendent took the opportunity to – let us say – misspeak about it.

          For the proof, see

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            It should be a blue ribbon school district. They have Mary Wash, a former teachers college right there!

          2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            Still has an Ed school. They mostly go to the counties for student teaching.

  4. Agreed: Fredericksburg residents probably would be better off if the city reverted to town status. But it’ll never happen. First, what county would want Fredericksburg and its liberal/leftist voters? Second, Fredericksburg’s voters would never want to submerge themselves in a rural/suburban county with its conservative voters.

    The problems run even deeper than Sherlock suggests here. I have chronicled the travails of my 93-year-old mother with the local Tree Nazis. She detests the city government. She has lived in many places in the U.S. and around the world, and she says moving to Fredericksburg (to be midway between me, living in Richmond, and my sister, living in D.C.) was one of the worst decisions she made in her life. In matters large in small, she says, city government is incompetent and unresponsive.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Counties don’t get a say on reversion under Virginia law. Ask Henry County about the Martinsville reversion.

      If the citizens of Fredericksburg choose to remain a city and to continue to deny their own children an education, they are either ignorant or evil.

    2. how_it_works Avatar

      I drew some unfavorable conclusions about Fredericksburg when I saw that, as recently as last year, they are still using 1980s-era “WALK/DON’T WALK” pedestrian signals in some places.

      (These have been out of compliance with applicable regulations for at least a couple decades now–the current regulations require the use pedestrian signals with symbols).

      They also hired Manassas Park’s former city manager to work in their code compliance office. Google her name, Kimberly Alexander. She has a long history of trouble where ever she’s worked.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        and Spotsyltucky?

        1. how_it_works Avatar

          I’ve seen none of the outdated “WALK/DON’T WALK” pedestrian signals on any VDOT-maintained signals anywhere, including Spotsylvania County.

          (VDOT does not maintain the signals in the city limits of Fredericksburg–the City of Fredericksburg is responsible for those. They get money from VDOT for this. Seeing outdated pedestrian signals makes one wonder how effectively they are spending that VDOT money..).

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Do you think there would be ANY AT ALL in Spotsy if not for VDOT?

          2. how_it_works Avatar

            There are guidelines as to when a pedestrian signal should be installed.

            Presuming that Spotsy (1) maintained their own signals and (2) hired or contracted a competent engineer to oversee them, then yes, there would be pedestrian signals installed in Spotsy where they are needed.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            You mean like they build sidewalks and trails and stuff?

            If it were not for VDOT, very little would get done.

            Smart Scale adds points to projects that also provide ped facilities.

            Before that, Spotsy would ask they be removed so that more money was available for more roads.


            Give the city credit. They do a good job of ped facilities, sidewalks and trails.

            did a terrible job on the round-a-bout on Lafayette though…

        2. how_it_works Avatar

          I’ve seen none of the outdated “WALK/DON’T WALK” pedestrian signals on any VDOT-maintained signals anywhere, including Spotsylvania County.

          (VDOT does not maintain the signals in the city limits of Fredericksburg–the City of Fredericksburg is responsible for those. They get money from VDOT for this. Seeing outdated pedestrian signals makes one wonder how effectively they are spending that VDOT money..).

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        yep, they do use some outdated ped signals but they also have a bunch of these and especially at non-signalized intersections:

  5. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    A key factor in not being just a part of a larger county is land use and zoning. But towns can control their own planning and zoning. Counties are not always responsive to local residents. For example, Fairfax County did not permit the citizen task force to vote on the final revised Comp Plan for the McLean Community Business Center.

  6. how_it_works Avatar

    But they’re not quite at “Detroit-on-the-Rappahannock” levels of dysfunction.


    Give it another decade or two.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      They have a crap-load of Section 8 apts that Stafford and Spotsy do not have. That’s where most of the “crime” is but it’s mostly assaults,thefts and vandalism… not murders and rapes, etc.

      wonky looking data… look at how many juvenile offenses and arrests.

      The city annexed part of Spotsy near I-95 a few years back and built a big retail thing that helps pay the freight on property taxes.

      They do have terrible schools and no one including the paper has much to say about it. There are a lot of kids from the Section 8 apts and they _may_ be tracking….or some version of it. Some/many higher income in the burg send their kids to local private schools , some in city, some in counties.

  7. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Generally, I am in favor of small and medium cities reverting to town status. However, crime rates is not one of the criteria. Most towns, even those much small than Fredericksburg would be, have their own police forces. I see no reason why a Fredericksburg town police force would be any more effective than a Fredericksburg city police force.

    The rate of Class A offenses for Fredericksburg is indeed surprisingly high. In fact, it is so far out of line with the surrounding localities and other cities of its size, such as Lynchburg, Staunton, Harrisonburge, etc. that I suspect there is an error somewhere in the reports submitted to the State Police.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I was looking at this:
      Annual crime data for individual agencies is located in the section entitled “NIBRS Agency Crime Overview”.

      and wonder if it is this:

      National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) – FBI

      so … the reporting path is ?

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I have done some more digging. Fredericksburg’s rate on A class offenses in 2019 and 2020 were lower than in 2021. However, even in those earlier two years, the rate was surprisingly high. Therefore, I am backing off my idea of erroneous reporting.

        I have another theory, but it would take a great deal of investigation to substantiate. Fredericksburg is a small city through which a busy stretch of I-95, one of the heaviest traveled highways in the country, passes, with several interchanges. It would be easy to hop off the interstate, rob one of the convenience stores or do some shoplifting, and get back on the interstate before anyone could respond. That could go a long way toward explaining the amount of crime that is disproportionate to the city’s population.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          I think the I-95 aspect is a reasonable point to consider.

          The pages of the Free Lance Star do have “crime” in it virtually every day but Fredericksburg does not “feel” like an unsafe place at all.

          Seems like a lot of the assaults and such take place at apt complexes not in the retail areas or even downtown Fredericksburg.

        2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          The map I published is by zip code.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            I assume you realize that zip codes are not aligned with jurisdictional boundaries, right?


  8. Curious, the issues are leadership, not resources to pay for better services. F’burg leadership is elected. Seems the voters have decided what they are content to settle for. They’ve paid their money and taken their choice. That is the essence of self government, and none of our business.

    Looks like the school problems are home grown sin. We can cluck and moan all we want, but it is not our call.

    I had offices in F’burg for several years. One of my customers wanted to make a small addition to his building. The local historical Nazis (kin to the tree Nazis I expect) managed to browbeat the city into taking down the building permit it had issued and requiring the half built walls to be pulled down and the foundation to be buried. Small town politics are what they are.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Hell with the Fredericksburg “leadership” and what those few voters will settle for. Children being systematically denied an education and thus a future should be everyone’s call.

      It is the reason we need an amendment to the Virginia constitution to permit the state to take over and run school systems such as Fredericksburg’s.

      1. You mentioned a ruling by someone that the previous takeover law was unconstitutional – can you help me track that down?

      2. So much for the conservative idea of local government close to the people making local decisions. Never figured you for a statist.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          My political philosophy stops where kids are getting hurt.

          1. That’s a well intentioned impulse, and one you and I share.

            It is also the source of many things we are not so fond of. For example the rush to dependence on solar and wind generation and the mandate that Virginia convert to all electric vehicles by 2035. Internet censorship is another for me.

            When imposing solutions the issue is always who has the authority and why. I happen to be fond of Virginia’s model of conservative government that pushes as many decisions as possible as locally as possible.

            The question is what kind of mistakes are we willing to let local people make and what issues do we believe are broad based public good and deserve standards across the Commonwealth. Those (I think) are things like roads, schools, electricity, communications, crimes. YMMV.

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