Criminal incidents fell 10% across Virginia - 338,784 in 2020 from 375,639 in 2019, according to the annual "Crime in Virginia" state police report.
The 2020 report breaks down different types of crime by times of day and months of the year they were committed, as well as demographics detailing who committed them and who they were committed against.
There may be more than one offense, or crime, committed per incident, and several people may be arrested for the same offense or one person could be arrested for several offenses, according to the report.
Local law enforcement officials in Shenandoah and Warren counties shared their thoughts with the Northern Virginia Daily about crime in their jurisdictions.
The Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office saw 771 incidents in 2020, and 880 the year before. That’s a 12.4% decrease.
The largest change in incident type was the simple assault category at 174 in 2020 and 265 the year before. There was an increase in larceny offenses to 112 in 2020 and 88 the year before. Drug/narcotic violations decreased to 114 in 2020 from 149 the year before.
Patrol Capt. Kolter Stroop attributed changes to the pandemic and everyone being locked down, out of work and not interacting much.
Investigations Capt. Scotty Thompson attributed the drug decrease to work of his department affecting the market by working cases that cut out high-level drug contributors to the area.
“That’s what you want to see,” Thompson said.
At the same time, he noted the drug violation category will fluctuate with spikes and decreases. With the country appearing to have started coming out of the pandemic in July, Thompson said his department will be looking at an uptick in incidents across the board and preparing for them.
The Town of Strasburg saw 286 incidents in 2020 and 292 the year before. That’s a 2.95% decrease.
The major category change was drug/narcotic violations with 83 in 2020 and 122 the year before.
Chief Wayne Sager said his department altered its way of policing a little to prevent any contraction of the COVID-19 disease. That meant less enforcement of minor traffic violations as well as less proactive policing by going out and engaging the community and interdiction efforts to find drugs on the road.
There also was an increase in simple assault, which is the same charge used in domestic violence situations, Sager said, with 54 in 2020 and 41 the year before. He noted that a simple assault incident doesn't always stem from a domestic violence situation.
He attributed the simple assault increase to pent-up frustrations from the lockdown.
“You’re spending 24 hours a day confined to your home,” Sager said.
As the country began opening back up with vaccinations increasing, the department received about 1,100 calls for service in May 2021 compared to 398 in May 2020. This, he said, highlights how much things slowed down. He noted it does not represent a reduction in service as his department responded to all calls for service.
Sager said his department would respond differently by using the phone or speaking to someone from a front porch more.
With the community not interacting as much in 2020, Sager noted there were fewer people to report crimes to. For example, he said a child who may be experiencing violence at home wasn’t able to report it to a school resource officer.
Sager said building community relationships and properly investigating incidents is what his department is looking forward to in the year ahead, adding that the department will focus on all crimes.
The Town of Woodstock saw 289 incidents in 2020 and 357 the year before. That’s a 19.1% decrease.
The major crime changes were a reduction in drug/narcotic violations at 51 in 2020 and 107 the year before. Drug equipment, or devices used in the preparation for using drugs, decreased to 23 in 2020 and 54 the year before. Drunkenness decreased to 21 instances in 2020 from 42, the year before.
Chief Eric Reiley stated by email there are many factors that affect these statistics, such as the economy and employment. Both were doing extremely well during the pre-pandemic period, which historically had resulted in a reduction in criminal activity and likely had an impact on the town’s statistics, Reiley said.
At the same time, the pandemic and related restrictions clearly had an impact on people’s patterns and activities over the last 18 months, Reiley wrote, and most likely impacted the trends as well.
“...we are always glad to see criminal offenses go down in any given year and we continually look at trends in order to prioritize our efforts to make an impact through education, prevention and enforcement,” Reiley stated.
The Mount Jackson Police Department investigated 57 incidents in 2020 and 47 the year before. That’s a 21.73% increase.
The biggest change in a category was an increase in theft from buildings with 21 in 2020 and 42 the year before.
Chief Jeff Sterner said that in light of those numbers, his officers will check the doors of buildings to make sure they're locked. If people go away from the area for a period of time, his officers can check on residences to ensure nothing suspicious is happening.
With the numbers, Sterner also noted his officers were not occupied with writing very many tickets. His department gave 156 stickers in 2020 and 97 the year before, he said.
“I’d rather have my people checking businesses than playing radar all night,” Sterner said.
The Town of New Market had 59 incidents in 2020 with 56 the year before. That’s a 5.45% increase.
Generally, every crime category had about the same figures each year.
Chief Chris Rinker noted there was a small increase in property crimes and larcenies.
“This is a reminder for residents and visitors to remove any valuables from their vehicles when parked and to be sure to lock their vehicles,” Rinker stated by email.
Locking homes, garages and outdoor buildings is important, Rinker said as he also suggested investing in a security system, video surveillance systems and motion lighting.
In total, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office had 748 incidents in 2020, up from 508 before. That’s a 47% increase.
The biggest changes in incident categories were an increase in shoplifting with 133 in 2020, compared to 26 the year before; drug/narcotic violations with 231 in 2020 and 121 the year before; and driving under the influence with 106 in 2020 and 81 the year before.
Capt. Robert Mumaw credited a beefed-up patrol division with the changes, saying, “Sheriff Butler, when he came in, he said he wanted a proactive patrol.” Butler was elected sheriff and stepped into that position in January 2020.
His changes in part have meant an increase in interdiction efforts this year, meaning an effort to seize drugs that may be getting transported throughout the county before they get to people. That’s partly why he pulled out of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, to focus his officers within the county.
“Break the law...If you bring drugs into the county and you’re caught with them we’re going to lock you up,” Mumaw said. “That’s 100 percent."
The pandemic forcing people into isolation and lockdown, Mumaw said, added to an increase in drug use. But 2021’s numbers were matching the past year he said, while acknowledging there is a mental health and drug problem in Warren County and the Town of Front Royal.
Business models, such as self-checkout was a factor in the increase in shoplifting offenses, Mumaw said.
Department of Motor Vehicle grants, which allow for more patrol efforts, led to the increase in DUI incidents, Mumaw said.
In the year ahead, the Sheriff’s Office will be looking to still be proactive, building community relationships through a Community Policing Unit as pandemic restrictions go down and addressing mental health issues with crisis intervention training, Mumaw said.
In total, the Front Royal Police Department had 999 incidents in 2020, down from 1,045 the year before. That’s a 4.4% decrease.
The largest changes in categories were drug/narcotic violations with 138 in 2020 and 162 the year before. Simple assault was another category with 326 in 2020 and 153 the year before.
Chief Khale Magalis noted that there “obviously” was more frustration among people during the pandemic with the lockdown, leading to more drug use, increased aggression, depression and social isolation.
“Assault is a crime that we respond to, it’s not really a crime that we can do much in the way of prevention,” Magalis said. “Because we don’t get called to altercations until they occur.”
At the same time, altering police response during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce transmission of the virus was a factor in the number of incidents in 2020, Magalis said. Some complaints were taken over the phone to limit personal contact as much as possible, and vehicle traffic stops were minimized.
As a result, that meant fewer opportunities to come across probable cause to search for narcotics violations, Magalis said.
"I would suspect that that was why you saw some of the decrease in some of those numbers,” he added.
As the country was looking to open back up with more COVID-19 vaccinations increasing, Magalis said the department was looking to move back to normal policing, focusing more on the police reform law changes made last year and on community policing.