BLUEFIELD — Bland County had the lowest overall crime rate in a four-county region of southwestern Virginia in 2021 and Bluefield, Va., has the highest per capita crime rate, in part at due to shoplifting charges.
However, local crime statistics do not reflect a statewide trend in Virginia of more violent crime.
The Virginia Crime Annual Report, compiled by the Virginia State Police for 2021, was recently released and showed a statewide increase in murder/manslaughter cases, with a rate of 6.49 per 100,000 inhabitants (per capita), compared to 6.15 in 2020 and 5.01 in 2019 and 4.59 in 2018.
The rate of aggravated assault per capita was 153.36 in 2021, compared to 143.6 in 2020, 130.3 in 2019 and 119.8 in 2018.
Overall, the statewide violent crime rate fell from 183.0 in 2020 to 194.4 (per 100,000 population) in 2021. There were 16,823 violent crimes reported in 2021 , compared to 15,713 violent crimes reported in 2020, representing an increase of 7.1%.
Murders and other violent crimes remain relatively low in this area, however, with only three murders reported for 2021.
Buchanan County saw two such killings and Tazewell County reported one murder.
However, the region shares the statewide decline in the burglary/break and enter rate, which fell to 120.89 in 2021, from 132.9 in 2020, 163.7 in 2019 and 177.35 in 2018.
Other property crimes also continued to fall, including property damage/destruction and robbery, a trend also seen in this area.
Drug offenses have also seen a decline across the state and this has been a trend in this area as well.
Maj. Harold Heatley of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office said drug and property crimes have been down since Sheriff Brian Hieatt took over in 2011.
“When the sheriff took office, we had a very clear goal to reduce property crime and increase drug arrests,” he said. “Every year the number of arrests increases and property crimes decrease.”
Indeed, he said, drugs and property crime go hand in hand since drug use leads directly to property crime.
“There really is a very serious correlation between the two,” he said. “When more people are arrested for drug-related offenses, they are not able to commit crimes.”
Heatley said about 95% of property crimes are drug-related.
Tazewell County recorded 216 drug offenses in 2021, and that number has stabilized after hitting more than 582 in 2016, a year that also saw 414 arrests for theft, compared to 51 in 2021.
Heatley said more violent crimes like murder and non-negligent manslaughter are not trending.
“They can fluctuate wildly,” he said, often coming in waves. “We’ve had three in 2020, one in 2021 and so far none this year.”
But one of the most serious crimes that has increased recently is sex crimes, particularly an increase in child sexual assaults.
Heatley said it was about coming out of the pandemic after schools were closed for so long.
“You have children who were away from people they could talk to,” he said, and those reports have increased since students returned to school last year.
Cases of child pornography have also increased, he added.
But Heatley said overall crime statistics are most affected by how law enforcement works.
The Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office is the largest police force in the county, he said, and has 190 different functions and each requires specific policies.
“We take care of everything,” he said of the variety of crimes.
But the sheriff’s office also targets specific issues.
“I really think you see decreases in a lot of stats because every year we strategize,” Heatley said. “We make it a point to come together as a command staff and prioritize the different things we want to work on each year. It is important that agencies identify problem areas and work together on them. »
Healtey said no one claims to be perfect.
“We’re going to miss things and make mistakes, but one thing everyone can say is that we always try to do our best and we always have victims at the forefront of what we do.”
Here is a breakdown of the local numbers of various crimes reported in 2021, excluding single-digit statistics:
Bland County, which has a population of 6,210, recorded 89 Group A felonies (excluding minor offenses such as traffic tickets), with 14 drug and other miscellaneous single-digit offenses.
The county has the lowest Group A crime rate per capita (per 100,000 population) at 998 with a per capita arrest rate of 1,046.
Bluefield, Va., with a population of 4,814, reported a total of 595 Group A offenses, with 185 drug cases, 52 common assaults, 20 burglaries/break-ins, 32 property damages, 164 shoplifting, 10 motor vehicle thefts and 70 other miscellaneous thefts.
At least in part due to the high number of shoplifting cases, the city recorded the highest Group A crime rate per capita (per 100,000 population) in the region at 10,344 and a arrest at 9,513, also the highest.
Buchanan County, population 19,099, reported 819 Group A crimes, including 140 drugs, 19 weapons law violations, 21 burglaries/break and enters, 72 property damage, 30 pretense/scams, 11 identity theft, 13 shoplifting and 126 other thefts.
The per capita crime rate for 2021 was 3,536 and the arrest rate was 3,759.
Giles County, population 10,264, reported 283 Group A felonies, including 47 drug offenses, 13 weapons violations, 13 aggravated assault, 66 common assault, 19 burglary/break and enter , 29 property damage cases, 11 pretense/scams and 43 other thefts.
Group A’s per capita crime rate was 2,289 with an arrest rate of 1,646.
The city of Pearisburg, population 2,620, saw 101 Group A offenses, including 22 drug incidents, 18 common assault, 17 shoplifting. All others were single digits.
Group A’s per capita crime rate was 3,511 and the arrest rate was 3,855.
Richlands, population 5,224, reported 302 Group A felonies, with 36 drug incidents, 75 common assaults, 14 burglaries/break and enters, 49 property damage, 14 thefts from motor vehicles and 40 other thefts . All other single digit crimes.
Group A’s per capita crime rate was 4,862 with an arrest rate of 4,670
Tazewell County, population 24,266, 896 Group A offenses including 216 drug cases, 53 drug equipment, 18 pornographic/obscene material, 20 weapons law violations, 51 burglary/break-in, 38 property damage , 12 pretense/scam, 13 credit card fraud, 34 identity thefts, 67 shoplifting, 12 motor vehicle thefts, 27 motor vehicle thefts and 71 other thefts.
Tazewell County’s Group A per capita crime rate was 3,086 and the arrest rate was 1,924.
In the town of Tazewell, population 4,113, 227 Group A crimes were reported, including 31 drug incidents, 49 common assaults, 24 burglaries/break and enters, 20 property damage, 10 credit card frauds. credit and 17 other thefts.
Tazewell’s per capita crime rate was 4,862 with an arrest rate of 3,335.
— Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]