Burglaries, Larcenies Lift Fairfax Crime Rate

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Crime in Fairfax County, which rose for the first time in six years in 2007, increased 12 percent in the first six months of this year, driven largely by big leaps in burglaries and larcenies, Fairfax police said yesterday.

Property crimes make up the vast majority of raw numbers in any county's crime data, but Fairfax police said that violent crime dropped nearly 10 percent in the first half of this year, compared with the same period last year. The decline stemmed mostly from a 25 percent drop in robberies, which became a focus of police after such crimes reached an all-time high in 2007.

Of the nearly 9,300 serious crimes committed in Fairfax through June -- murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft -- more than 7,450 were larcenies, or 80 percent, according to police statistics. The number of larcenies this year was 1,000 more than a year ago.

Many of the thefts were of portable Global Positioning System devices taken from cars, as well as other small but valuable electronics devices, such as iPods, cellphones and laptop computers, Fairfax Lt. Jennifer Lescallett said.

"The GPS units continue to be one of the hot commodities," Lescallett said.

The rise in robberies had been a serious trend in Fairfax in recent years, reaching a record high of 597 in 2007. This year, 218 robberies was reported, down 25 percent from 292 a year ago.

Lescallett said police have used crime rate data to track where most robberies occurred, and have concentrated efforts in those areas to limit holdups.

Although Fairfax is the most populous jurisdiction in the Washington region, the number of crimes per 100,000 residents consistently ranks lower than in neighboring jurisdictions. In 2006, the last year for which comparable data are available, Fairfax had about 1,683 crimes per 100,000 residents. Arlington County had more than 2,200 crimes per 100,000 residents in 2006, Alexandria and Montgomery County each had more than 2,600, and Prince George's County had more than 5,200.

The number of crimes in Fairfax in 2006 was the lowest recorded by Fairfax police dating to 1970, when the county's population was about 500,000. More than 1 million people now live in the county.

Gregg O. McCrary, a former violent-crimes analyst for the FBI, said offering reasons for the rise and fall of crime rates is speculative. "Overall, we're at one of the lowest periods of crime in contemporary history," he said.

McCrary said he doubts the theories that link crime peaks and valleys to economic conditions, and said the use of targeted crime data by police has been effective.

Fairfax has made it easier to report crimes, especially through Internet and telephone access, possibly leading to statistical increases, Lescallett said. "We've been doing more marketing in terms of getting people to report crime," she said. "In the last year, we've really been pushing that more."

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