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Larceny offenses lead area crime rates

RELATED: See more crime news from the Fredericksburg region

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People steal. And they do it often.

People steal from shopping centers.

People steal from parked cars.

And in Fredericksburg and the nine surrounding counties, more people steal than commit any other crime.

Larcenies top the list of crimes reported to the Virginia State Police by police departments and sheriff’s offices throughout the state for 2013, a trend that stands the test of time. Larceny virtually always outperforms any other criminal activity.

And in Fredericksburg, it increased by 12.7 percent last year.

But residents shouldn’t be overly worried about their personal belongings being stolen just because the city saw 1,039 thefts in 2013. City police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe said shoplifting accounts for an overwhelming majority of larceny cases.

“In Central Park alone, we’re responding to multiple shoplifting incidents a day,” Bledsoe said.  “High numbers [of larceny] alone does not mean that you or I are in particular danger.”

 It isn’t just the city that’s seen  larceny overwhelm all other crime in its regularity. The surrounding counties also experienced similar disproportionate amounts of theft last year.

In Stafford County, many  of those larcenies are vehicle break-ins, said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bill Kennedy.

And other property crimes, burglary and motor-vehicle theft, come in at higher totals than almost all  violent crimes in the Fredericksburg area.

Residents can take measures to reduce the likelihood that they’ll fall victim to a criminal’s next heist.

Don’t leave valuables in your car, and keep anything that a thief might want out of sight, Bledsoe said. And always lock the doors to your vehicle and house.

But even if all precautions are taken, there’s no way to ensure your belongings won’t be stolen.

Just about anything of value can become loot for a larcenist. Bicycles are stolen from backyards and lawn ornaments are plucked right out of gardens.

 “I have a flag in front of my house, and I can’t protect myself [from having that stolen]. If someone wants it, they’re going to take it,” Bledsoe said. “Recognize that we’re not going to eradicate crime completely.”

City police are focusing on finding ways to reduce larceny, as well as robbery and aggravated assault, which have also been on the rise in recent years, Bledsoe said.

 The statewide statistics provide a general overview of crime throughout Virginia, ticking off numbers of violent and property crimes, as well as giving incident rates based on population.

 The crime statistics provide useful information about what crimes are on the rise.

  ASCENDING ASSAULTS

Violent crime in the area is generally low, with one notable exception: aggravated assault.

Aggravated assault numbers double, triple and quadruple the numbers of other violent crimes  in nearby localities. Even in areas where aggravated assault numbers are low—such as King George County, where only 17 aggravated assaults were reported—the number of assaults exceeds the next most common violent crime by more than 100 percent.

The statistics aren’t perfect. It’s crucial to keep in mind that many factors contribute to the safety of an area in relation to its crime statistics, including population density and economic conditions, according to the state report.

Because the report doesn’t take into account the urbanization of certain areas, direct comparisons between the crime rate of a city and the crime rate of a rural county can lead to misunderstandings of how safe an area is.

In fact, the report seems to indicate that Fredericksburg rates highly—in the top 15 localities and five spots higher than Richmond—for its crime rate per 100,000 residents. But this is mostly because the city has a small population compared with areas like Richmond, Bledsoe said.

And when the total numbers of violent crimes in the two cities are directly compared, Fredericksburg appears much safer than the state’s capital.

Fredericksburg reported just one murder and a total of 116 violent crimes for all of 2013, compared with 37 murders and 1,252 violent crimes.

CRIME IN THE COUNTIES

 With much higher populations and more territory, Spotsylvania and Stafford reported the highest number of crimes in the area.

But Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Pearce noted that on a per capita basis, the county’s rate is comparable to others in the region.

In Stafford, crime was  down, with decreases in nearly every category, including burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.

 Sheriff Charles Jett said the crime spike in 2012 was an anomaly and the 2013 crime levels are more consistent with the crime Stafford usually encounters.   

Spotsylvania saw similar declines in almost every area of crime, with modest increases in only murder and burglary. And although murder increased slightly, the five homicides are consistent with a low violent crime rate.

Spotsylvania takes a twofold approach to targeting the most common crimes—larceny and motor vehicle theft, Pearce said.

“First and foremost is educating the public on what thieves are looking for,” he said.

 The second part of the  strategy is using crime analysts to spot trends and focus enforcement on those areas, Pearce added.

A successful relationship between law enforcement officials and county leaders also helps the Sheriff’s Office keep up staffing levels and fill open positions with the most qualified people available, Pearce said.

 To target aggravated assault, which is Spotsylvania’s most frequent violent crime, Sheriff Roger Harris requires deputies to  attend crisis-intervention training, where they learn to defuse tense situations.

 Assaults on law enforcement officers, in particular,  immediately decrease as a result of the training, Pearce said.

The Stafford Sheriff’s Office also took measured approaches to targeting certain crimes, such as larceny from vehicles and prostitution.

With its catchy education slogan “Take it, Hide it, Lock it, or Lose it,” the office was able to encourage residents to keep a more watchful eye on their property. Larceny from vehicles declined by 50 percent in 2012 and saw a leveling off in the next year, Jett said.

The county also increased its prostitution arrests from 10 in 2012 to 57 in 2013. Jett said the special problems unit has been able to use intelligence and analysis of social media to target and apprehend people involved in human trafficking with great success in the past year.

 LESS STRANGER DANGER

 When it comes to violent crime in the city, Bledsoe said victims are usually attacked by people they already know rather than strangers.

 Two common circumstances for an aggravated assault are domestic violence incidents that escalate to aggravated assault status and cases where people go out to a restaurant, bar or  similar location and end up in a fight, Bledsoe said.

In aggravated assault cases especially, the people involved in the altercations typically knew each other before the assault.

  The same trend is true for rape cases, Bledsoe said. Although this fact doesn’t lessen the severity of the crime, it does point out that the average person isn’t at great risk of being attacked on the street by a stranger, she added.

The Stafford Sheriff’s Office encounters the same pattern in violent crimes, Jett said.

When people see statistics for forcible rape, they think of men jumping out of bushes and attacking women out for a jog, Jett said. But the reality is that Stafford deputies mostly respond to complaints involving minors, such as statutory rape. In these cases, the parties involved already know one another.

 “Often, [violent crime] is not stranger on stranger,” Jett said.  

SMALLER STATISTICS

Other local counties have such low incidents of crime that modest increases in one area or another can make it look like crime is on the rise, when really it is varying at a normal level from year to year.

King George, for example, saw an increase in  rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. But the largest increase in numbers was the 21 more larcenies that occurred in 2013.

 And the other crimes varied by  even smaller amounts—from one more rape than in 2012 to eight more stolen cars.

 Sheriff Steve Dempsey said in addition to the county’s small amount of crime, his office spends time and resources addressing incidents that don’t fit neatly into the categories of the state report.

Sometimes complicated incidents require sophisticated technology to resolve, and not every incident deputies respond to results in an arrest or criminal charge. But the sheriff’s office is still responsible for addressing these issues, Dempsey said.

 King George sheriff’s officials said increases in crime tend to come in waves, and certain incidents  peak because of circumstances rather than changes in law enforcement efforts.

For example, there were more vehicle break-ins when GPS devices began gaining popularity, officials said. Dempsey said the small increases in 2013 were due to normal fluctuations in crime, and were not linked to any particular trends.

And overall, King George  enjoys one of the lowest totals of criminal incidents in the local vicinity. Dempsey said the low crime rate is due to three factors: proactive law enforcement, a small population within the county and the presence of fewer businesses than some surrounding areas.

Most of the local areas have a total number of criminal incidents between 500 and 6,000, compared to  Fairfax County, which  had the most crimes at  more than 35,000.

 And most of those are property crimes, indicating that officers have managed to keep violent crime fairly low in recent years.

But residents should still keep an eye on their property, because larceny continues to be the most common crime by far. And  given the recent uptick in car break-ins, theft may continue to increase in 2014.

Katie Shepherd 540/374-5417 | kshepherd@freelancestar.com

2012-13 Violent Crime

2012-13 Property Crime

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