by Jon Baliles
The Richmond Police Department held its annual crime review briefing this week and the numbers were positive on the surface, a little mixed in total, and almost miraculous considering the force has more than 150 vacancies.
Mark Bowes writes in the Times-Dispatch that “The good news for the city of Richmond from a crime perspective last year was a 37% drop in homicides (from 90 to 57) and a 17% reduction in robberies of persons.” The numbers of reported rapes, aggravated assaults and commercial robberies rose in 2022 over the preceding year, but overall violent crime was flat, [Acting Police Chief Rick Edwards] said, dropping about 1% from 1,099 reported offenses to 1,087.
However, a more disturbing trend was the 33 incidents of shootings with more than one victim (80 people total in 33 shootings – recall the one shooting last summer on Broad Street with six shooting victims). That was up from 31 multiple shootings in 2021 with 68 victims. Also, the number of non-fatal shootings increased from 244 in 2021 to 256 last year.
“The numbers would have been even higher,” Edwards said, if not for police initiatives during the final quarter of the year that reduced by 12% the number of shootings during that three month period. They dropped from 69 to 61. “We were on track to have a much higher increase in non-fatal shootings,’ the chief said.”
The drop in homicides can be traced to Edwards deploying new tactics and using data to do more with the officers we have. Edwards was in charge of a new gun initiative this summer before rising to Acting Chief in late October. The data created a “targeted police effort during the summer months in Richmond’s ’25 hottest blocks'” for violent crime, as determined by department crime analysts. And not surprisingly, perhaps, the greatest concentration of violent crime was occurring in the city’s public housing developments, such as Creighton, Mosby, Gilpin, Hillside and Fairfield courts, along with the Belt Atlantic Apartments.
“We saw a 27% reduction in murder in these specific neighborhoods,” Edwards said, crediting the department’s targeted efforts. Nineteen of the 25 most violence-plagued neighborhoods were in the First Precinct, and the department’s focus on those communities resulted in an overall homicide reduction of 73%, he said.
“It might seem counter-intuitive to have a great reduction in murders, with the vast majority of our murders involving firearms, while seeing more victims of gunfire,” Edwards told Bowes. As CBS6 Crime Insider Jon Burkett has said in more than one interview, “Credit the surgeons at VCU — if we didn’t have them, we’d be in really big trouble,” referring to the homicide rate. They are saving lives every weekend.
The crime numbers also showed increases in property crimes like burglaries, larcenies, vehicle thefts, and arson, which were up 22% in 2022 compared to 2021.
The driving force behind the rise in these crimes was a 39% spike in property stolen from vehicles, which rose from 1,694 offenses in 2021 to 2,362 last year. “That’s by far our biggest crime in 2022, not just percentage-wise but sheer numbers of crimes,” Edwards said.
And that number could (and should) be so much lower except for the fact that people don’t lock their doors and leave valuables in plain sight. In a story by David Ress in the Times-Dispatch last month, Edwards said “most of those are from unlocked vehicles. Usually, the key is in the car and sometimes the engine is running. They don’t hot wire cars these days.”
What is super scary is that the report indicated that 714 firearms were stolen from vehicles last year, waaaaay more than the 413 weapons taken in 2021 (a 73% increase). Edwards told Elizabeth Holmes at CBS6 that “There’s many of those cases that go unsolved, so we don’t actually know who’s doing it, but what we generally see is groups of young folks, pulling on every door handle,” Edwards said. He added that in many cases, the cars are unlocked.
Which means in the last two years, 1,127 guns are on the street that should not be, mainly because people are dumb enough to leave their gun in their car or super-dumb enough to leave their gun in their unlocked car. So, whether you have a laptop, iPad, credit card, or a firearm, you don’t have to join a neighborhood watch, install cameras, or take a bite out of crime to help fight it — just lock your door. Seems simple enough.
Going back to the Bowes article, also in regard to people leaving their cars unlocked, Edwards said: “It’s a very hard crime to solve. Our officers could be sitting right next to someone, if we have one of our young folks walk up to a door, open it, take something out of it, a computer bag or whatever, and walk off, he could be committing a crime right in front of us, and we wouldn’t know it because he didn’t smash the window and nothing would look out of place.”
You might recall that several years ago, the RPD produced some funny public service announcement videos that are still apropos today, given the high motor vehicle theft numbers (you will be surprised how fast someone can grab a laptop from a car). Considering that people still leave their cars unlocked with laptops, wallets, and other valuables (or guns) in their cars — it’s amazing they are shocked when they realize someone has walked by and pulled the handle, found the booty, and absconded with it. Why that is shocking is just baffling. And since property crimes have a horrendous solve rate of 10% or less, if you leave your door unlocked, you aren’t getting your valuables back, plain and simple.
Jon Baliles is a former Richmond City Councilman. This article was published originally in his blog RVA 5×5 and is republished here with permission.