By Chuck Foster
Back in March 2017, I wrote an article for Ripples that discussed the low level of crime in Fairfax County, using statistics from 2015. At that time, the County had recorded the lowest level of reported crime since crime statistics were first published in 1970. In the years since then, one measure of crime—total reported crime per 100,000 residents—has continued the declining trend through 2021. Total crime includes three major categories: (1) crimes against persons; (2) crimes against property; and (3) crimes against society.
Understandably, crimes against persons tend to draw the most attention from the general public. These include assault, homicide, kidnapping/abduction, and sex offenses. In fact, since 2019, the numbers in the County increased in these categories. In the category of property crimes, motor vehicle theft showed a significant jump and burglary showed a significant decline. The latter might be explained by the large number of people working from home during the Covid pandemic. In the category of crimes against society, weapons violations showed a significant increase and drug offenses dropped dramatically. The latter is likely due to virtual learning as drug offenses are often committed on school grounds.
When I was Chair of the Neighborhood Watch (NW) Committee, I posted three documents on the NW page on lakeportcluster.org. The links are labeled “Process for Handling Crime,” “Evaluating Solicitors,” and “Profile of a Burglar.” These documents contain a lot of helpful information, which draws on my experience in law enforcement and my research while working on my MS in criminal justice.
For law enforcement professionals, one of the most frustrating behaviors we all display is that we do not call the police when we should or we delay calling until we chat with our friends and family about what happened. If we display these behaviors, the police lose valuable information and valuable time to possibly arrest a suspect responsible for a series of crimes.
Emergencies require an immediate response by witnesses and/or those involved. Any citizen can summon an ambulance, patrol officer, or fire truck. On a related note, if you (1) notice a suspicious vehicle, person, or event, (2) witness a crime in progress, or (3) are the victim of crime, you are the one person with the responsibility to summon the police. When the police arrive, they will want to talk to you, not anyone who was uninvolved. Please do not be afraid or hesitant to summon the police if warranted.
Importantly, if you are the victim of a property crime you did not witness, such as theft from a vehicle, theft of a vehicle, burglary, or vandalism, do not disturb the crime scene! The police may find valuable evidence if you leave everything untouched. For example, if you find your car door open in the morning, do not touch anything and summon the police immediately. Further, if you find graffiti on your property, do not attempt to remove it before the police arrive.
There are some non-emergencies the Board can handle. For example, if you discover (not witness) the destruction or apparent theft of property in the common area (e.g., graffiti, damage to landscaping, damage to infrastructure), you can notify the Board and we will handle it.
In closing, it is important for you to know that the Fairfax County Police Department is struggling to recruit and retain personnel. In late July, the Chief of Police declared a state of emergency for staffing as they are dealing with 189 vacancies with an expectation of more to come. The staffing shortage is putting a lot of pressure on patrol officers. Officers in specialty units are being put back on the street, patrol shifts have been increased to 12½ hours, and the officers who are on the street are very busy handling the calls that should be spread across a higher number of officers. I recently spoke with an officer whom I worked with for seven years and she told me the job is more stressful than ever and morale is low. She said that she really appreciates it when people thank her for her service to the County. Let’s hope that our County’s leaders can find a way to fully staff the department and improve morale, and if you see a police officer, please thank them for their service.