Police Chief: Virginia Beach crime rate as low as it’s been in decades

Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera [File/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Ed. note — This story originally appeared in the Friday, Feb. 3, print edition.


VIRGINIA BEACH – While noting areas of concern, police Chief Jim Cervera in a January report to the City Council described a department that is using restraint during its interactions with the public in a city boasting crime rates as low as those seen when the modern city first formed.

The current crime rate per 1,000 people is roughly as low as the rate in the early 1960s, according to the report. The department’s numbers show the crime rate has been in a steady decline since the early 1990s.

This past year, city police officers responded to nearly 179,000 calls for service.

“Of all those contacts, we used force a grand total of 622 times,” the chief said in an interview, adding that the Beach is one of the few cities that considers pointing a taser or weapon to be a use of force.

Officers pointed firearms at people 60 times in 2016, but they did not fire them in those cases. Tasers were used 19 times out of 59 instances during which they were pointed at someone, according to the report.

Cervera’s briefing for the council generally compared crime statistics over the past five years. He began it with a quote: “In some jobs, success is measured by what doesn’t happen.”

The rate of violent crimes declined over the past five years. The report showed homicide numbers remaining roughly consistent in that time, and there were declines in robberies and aggravated assaults, though the number of rape cases rose 7.1 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Aggravated assaults rose from 2015 to 2016, and Cervera said he is concerned that guns were used in 20 percent of aggravated assault cases.

“Our robbery cases have come down, especially our commercial robbery cases,” Cervera said. 

The property crime rate declined 17.8 percent from 2012 to 2016, with a significant drop in the number burglaries, 46.2 percent, in that five year period. 

As The Independent News reported in the Jan. 6 edition, motor vehicle thefts and larcenies from motor vehicles remain a concern throughout the city. “In a lot of our motor vehicle cases, people leave the keys in the car,” Cervera said on Jan. 24. 

The department has been working with communities to address the problem, and it launched a public information camaign to help remind people to remove valuables, including guns, from unattended vehicles and to lock their doors behind them.

The 2016 number of motor vehicle thefts described in Cervera’s report was roughly on par with 2012, showing a slight decrease, but the number rose from a 345 in 2014 to 457 this past year. 

The statistics presented by Cervera are different than the numbers used as the basis of The Independent News’ report, “Easy Rides,” which is available online. That story used reported crimes, some of which may later be determined to be unfounded.

“Motor vehicle thefts are up,” Cervera said in an interview before his presentation. “They’re up around the country. Larcenies from motor vehicles are up. They’re up around the country.”

Virginia Beach has had a high clearance rate for homicide cases, and that trend continued in 2016. Clearance rates do not necessarily mean arrests or convictions in every instance, particularly when a matter may be ongoing. 

“Especially homicide and rapes, things that take some time to solve, may be cleared in a different year,” said Dr. Scott Maggard, and associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University, in an interview.

Cervera in an interview said clearance numbers can include cases from a previous year or a cold case.

In 2016, 21 criminal homicides occurred in the city while 20 cases were cleared, a 95.2 percent rate. A year earlier, the rate was 142.1 percent, with 19 homicides on the year compared to 27 cases cleared.

The department’s annual reports dating back to 2007 don’t show clearance rates so high every year, but police over the past decade have cleared more cases than there were homicides in the city.

While calls for service have remained roughly consistent over the past few years, field contacts and motor vehicle traffic stops have declined. The number of violations, including moving violations, declined, and so did the number of arrests.

During the meeting, City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, asked about heroin use. “Are we seeing any improvement?”

Cervera said no, noting that there had been an overdose the previous night.

“It is an issue we don’t think is going to go away any time soon,” the chief said.

© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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