Big Picture on Crime

As police chief for Prince William County, I think it is important to provide comment and perspective regarding the safety of our community following the recent series of violent incidents.

First, let me stress that the Police Department, the county executive and the Board of County Supervisors take these incidents very seriously. Our goal is to protect the public safety, and we understand the magnitude of this responsibility. At the same time, we have a duty to provide the public with the information you need to put these events in context.

To assess the big picture regarding crime and personal safety in Prince William County, I ask readers to consider the following factors:

* PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY IS A SAFE PLACE: Prince William County experienced its lowest crime rate in five years during 1998, reflecting a continuous downward trend in crime since 1994. This was one of the lowest crime rates in the region. Less than 10 percent of all reported crime in the county is violent crime. Based on annual University of Virginia surveys, the vast majority of citizens feel safe in their neighborhoods.

* THE NUMBER OF MURDERS HAS HISTORICALLY FLUCTUATED: The murder rate has varied widely from one year to the next without explanation. For example, in 1995, there were 12 murders, and in 1997 there were 2. Therefore, the fact that there have been 10 murders this year, while troubling, should not be alarming. It does not indicate a trend or pattern.

* MOST VICTIMS WERE ACQUAINTED WITH THEIR KILLER: It is important to note that the vast majority of murders were committed by acquaintances. While no comfort for the families of murder victims, the fact that most victims knew their killer demonstrates that most were not random acts of street violence.

* SUSPECTS ARE ARRESTED: Of the 10 known murders that have been investigated this year, eight have been quickly closed by arrest. The solved cases can be generally characterized as follows:

Four were domestic-related:

--Two murder/suicides

--One shaken baby

--One domestic triangle

--One acquaintance robbery

--One traffic altercation

--Two acquaintance feuds

* HISTORY OF SUCCESSFUL PROSECUTIONS AND SEVERE SENTENCES: Prince William County has a high conviction rate for cases of violent crime. As the result of solid investigations and aggressive prosecution, Prince William County has one of the highest rates of capital case convictions in Virginia.

The Police Department's murder analysis shows that the community's safety is not at risk. There is no connection among any of the 10 murders. The recent trend follows our historical experience: The county's murder rate fluctuates significantly from year to year, most involve acquaintances and most cannot be attributed to "random street violence."

The Police Department plays a major part, but it is up to all of us to protect Prince William County's public safety. We encourage you to actively participate in your Neighborhood Watch or contact us at 792-7270 for information on starting a Neighborhood Watch in your area. Aug. 3 is the National Night Out Against Crime. We urge you to take part in these anti-crime activities throughout our community. Let's work together to take a stand against crime and make sure Prince William County is a safe home for all of us.

CHARLIE T. DEANE

Chief of Police