A regional approach to crime: How violent offenses shifted in Central Virginia during 2020


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Although data released by Virginia State Police (VSP) shows that violent crime throughout the commonwealth decreased in 2020, homicides increased, including in the City of Richmond, where violent crime is already back on the rise in 2021.

According to VSP, violent crime includes the offenses of murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault. Overall, Virginia experienced a 1.9% decrease in such offenses in 2020, compared to 2019.

However, in 2019, the Crime in Virginia report showed that there were 428 homicides, compared to 528 in 2020.

The Richmond Police Department (RPD) reported 55 incidences of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter in 2019, compared to 66 such incidences in 2020. Recorded aggravated assault offenses, however, decreased. RPD reported 598 aggravated assaults in 2019 and 471 in 2020.

What remained consistent statewide from 2019 to 2020 was the average time during which a murder or nonnegligent manslaughter incident occurred. In both years, most such crimes happened on Saturday nights.

Similarly, aggravated assault incidents throughout Virginia happened most often on Sunday nights in both 2019 and 2020.

According to RPD Chief of Police Gerald Smith, if the information is broken down by quarters, the City of Richmond has seen similar numbers of homicides in 2021 as in years past, with the exclusion of 2020.

“2020, I am going to refer to, and I believe that many will refer to as the ‘asterisk year’ when you start doing comparisons, and it’s not really a fair comparison because that year had an effect on so many things,” Smith said at a Monday press conference. “But if you take a look going back to 2019, ’18, ’17 and 2016, this gives you an idea of where we are when it comes down to our homicides.”

Smith said that, year-to-date, this is how many homicides the department recorded in past years:

Year Number of homicides, year-to-date
Smith said that the number of homicides reported in the first half of 2021 is not dissimilar from what was reported prior to 2020.

“When you take a look at [violent crime] for the last two years, it actually — it’s not bad. But it’s not what we want. We want to see if we can drop those numbers down even further,” Smith said. “There are others who are saying and putting up other things and saying and putting up signs that give the impression that Richmond is not safe to come live, work, play, or do business.”

Smith said that the data shows otherwise.

“This is not what this is saying,” he said. “If that was the case, then they should’ve gone back years ago to some of these other years and that should’ve been the message then.”

Smith said that, as the year progresses, the trends in the violent crime data have started to become apparent. One such trend, he said, is that more young people are being impacted by such offenses.

“We take a look at the crime, especially here in Richmond, we are seeing the effects of that on our kids,” Smith said. “The kids are the ones who are affected the most and they are also seeing that sharp [increase] of them being not only participants in violent crimes, but [also] victims of violent crime.”

The statewide data on victims and perpetrators of violent crimes in 2021 is not expected to be released until 2022. But the Crime in Virginia report for 2019 showed that in both 2019 and 2020 those in the 25-34 age range were most likely to be victims in murder and nonnegligent manslaughter incidents.

In 2019, there were 104 male or female victims of murder or nonnegligent manslaughter in Virginia who were aged 25 to 34. The following year, during the coronavirus pandemic, there were 154 male or female victims of murder or nonnegligent manslaughter in the commonwealth in the 25-34 age range.

Over the course of these two years, the offenders in murder and nonnegligent manslaughter incidents were most likely to be between the ages of 18 and 24. In 2019, there were 144 male or female offenders in murder or nonnegligent manslaughter incidents in Virginia in that age range. In 2020, there were 183 male or female offenders in such incidents throughout the commonwealth in that age range.

“Now that the pattern is starting to present itself, we know there are three things that have to be addressed: proliferation of guns, the mental health and emotional strain on society at a whole, and we have to get trust back into the police again so people can pick up the phone and give us a call,” Smith said.

To address the distrust in police, Smith said that RPD is going door-to-door and walking around the community to rebuild relationships and legitimacy.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith said that the impacts have been far-reaching.

“The pandemic in itself and the effects that it has had on citizens near and far has just been tremendous. People have short tempers, people are upset, it has put economic strain on people, it has put worry and anxiety in people,” he said. “People just have quick fuses and we are seeing a quick, quick increase in people taking violent action to solve their problems.”

Although Smith spoke specifically to the issues that the City of Richmond has faced and continues to face in 2021, several other localities reported varying levels of aggravated assault over the past two years. For example, while Chesterfield County and Louisa County had a significant decrease of reported aggravated assault incidence, Prince George County and Henrico County recorded an increase.

Chesterfield County199234
City of Colonial Heights4744
Dinwiddie County7268
Goochland County69
Hanover County137144
Henrico County295377
City of Hopewell4561
Louisa County241
City of Petersburg162144
Prince George County53102
City of Richmond601483
This table shows the number of aggravated assaults reported in each locality, including data from police departments, sheriff’s offices and Virginia State Police. (Data: Crime in Virginia, Virginia State Police)

“The reasons that we have our aggravated assaults are going up and overall crime is going up and violent crime is a concern,” Smith said. “We are not the top. But there are other years that we actually exceeded that.”

Throughout Virginia, of the known weapons reported for violent crimes in 2020, firearms were used in 83% of homicides and 50.4% of robberies. The data also shows that firearms were used in 35.2% of aggravated assault cases. According to the Crime in Virginia report for 2020, handguns were the firearms used most frequently in violent crimes.

That’s why Smith said that RPD and law enforcement agencies in neighboring localities are cracking down on gun security.

“That continues to be an issue. But now, it’s taking on more of a regional concern. Now, we have Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover Sheriff’s Department, Goochland Sheriff’s Department all on board,” Smith said. “Please get yourself a lockbox, or even just remove your weapon from your vehicle. You don’t want that weapon to end up in the hands of a criminal and, for God’s sake, we don’t want that gun to end up in the hands of a child.”

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