Fairfax County’s new “safety awareness” cruiser. With all those signs, you have to wonder if Valvoline and Pirelli are on the other side. Criminals will be too distracted reading to commit crime. (Fairfax County Police Department)

After a streak of four straight years of decreases in serious crime, including two consecutive years of record low crime totals, Fairfax County experienced a four percent increase in “Part I Crimes” in 2013. The cause is related almost entirely to a jump in larcenies, but also by increases in five of the seven Uniform Crime Reporting categories. However, Fairfax did have a banner year in one respect: there were only eight homicides in the county of 1.1 million people, the second-lowest total since Fairfax began keeping stats in 1970, beaten only by a four-homicide year in 1985. That one will be hard to beat.

The Part I crimes — homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft — were devised by the FBI many decades ago for local police departments to report their crime statistics into a nationwide data base. There is now a more detailed way of capturing crime stats: incident-based reporting, or “IBR,” which has 22 categories capturing 46 specific offenses. Most Virginia agencies, including Fairfax, now report their crime stats this way, and it’s awesomely complicated and confusing. Robbery, defined as the taking of property from another PERSON, is included in “Crimes Against Property.” All assault offenses, whether aggravated assault or simple assault (which is merely the threat of assault) are lumped together, meaning you can stab someone in the chest or merely threaten to slap them and it’s all in one category. Strange. Here are Fairfax County’s IBR stats for the last two years.

But Fairfax still keeps track of the good ol’ Part I crimes, in part because not all the police departments in the D.C. region have adopted IBR, and in part because they have computers and it’s easy to sift them out of the IBR system. Only two of the categories need to be sifted: drawing aggravated assaults out of the “Assault Offenses” category, and drawing rapes out of the “Sex Offenses, Forcible” category, which under IBR also includes forcible fondling and forcible sodomy, a catch-all term under Virginia law, though all are serious offenses.

As you can see in the table below, there were large percentage jumps in the numbers of rapes and robberies. But the number of rapes has always fluctuated from year to year between 65 and 100, the historical data show. And though robberies also rose by double digits, that number has come way down in recent years from its totals in the mid-400s to mid-500s in years past. But to have only eight homicides in a county of 1.1 million — that is remarkable. In 2012, the homicide rate per 100,000 in the United States was 4.7. In Fairfax, the homicide rate is 1.39 per 100,000. The Part I crime rate in the entire U.S. in 2012 was 3,246.1 per 100,000; in Fairfax in 2013 it was 1,477.5. The county supplied a population figure of 1,111,620 for purposes of per capita calculation.

And here’s one more remarkable stat: The auto theft total dropped again to its lowest on record. As recently as 2004, close to 2,000 vehicles were reported stolen in Fairfax County every year. But starting in 2005 that number has plummeted annually, to where fewer than 800 autos were stolen last year, a 62 percent drop. Law enforcement nationwide has made great advances in fighting auto theft, but it’s hard to imagine many other departments with such hard proof of success as Fairfax County. Add your thoughts on the state of suburban crime in the comments.

Part I Crimes 2012 2013 Percent Change
Homicide 16 8 -50%
Rape 73 88 20.5%
Robbery 350 411 17.4%
Agg. Assault 387 414 7%
Burglary 1.063 1.070 0.7%
Larceny 13.095 13.676 4.4%
Auto Theft 808 757 -6.3%
Total 15.792 16.424 4%