Virginia law enforcement officials really aren’t sure how many homicides occurred in Fairfax County in 2013. The number could range anywhere from 8 to 17, depending on who you ask.
This week, the Virginia State Patrol released its annual “Crime in Virginia” report for 2013.
The report breaks down criminal offenses throughout Virginia by each local law enforcement jurisdiction and is the Commonwealth’s official and only comprehensive report on both statewide and local crime statistics.
Per state mandate, the VSP serves as the primary collector of crime data from participating state and local police departments and sheriffs’ offices. The data is collected by the Virginia State Police Criminal Justice Information Services Division via a secured Internet system. The information is then compiled into the annual “Crime in Virginia” report, for use by law enforcement, elected officials, media and the general public. The data eventually becomes the official crime statistics for the Commonwealth and are then sent to the FBI, who modifies and incorporates them in their annual report, “Crime in the United States.”
The 2013 VSP report states that overall, Virginia experienced a decline in violent crime (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) of 1.6 percent compared to 2012, less of a decline of the 3.0 percent decrease comparing 2011 with 2012. Statewide, the homicide rate per 100,000 population remained essentially the same for 2013 (3.84) as in 2012 (3.86).
But figuring out the homicide rate for Fairfax County is difficult, because law enforcement agencies apparently cannot agree on how many homicides actually occurred. In the VSP 2013 annual report, two different figures are stated.
On Page 88 of the 128-page report, in section VIII under the heading of “Group A Offenses by Contributing Agencies,” the number of “Murders and Non-negligent Manslaughters” in Fairfax County is listed as 12. On page 109 of the report, in section IX under the heading of “Arrest Totals by County, City and Other,” the number of murders in Fairfax County is listed as 11. There is no category in that section for non-negligent homicide.
“Non-negligent homicide is generally listed along with murder, and not tabulated separately,” said Norman Westerberg of the VSP, who oversaw the report’s tabulations. “I ran an inquiry on the Fairfax County homicides and going by age, gender and other factors, there do not appear to be any duplications,” he said.
Westerberg said the discrepancy could not be a result of separate police jurisdictions within the county (such as police departments in the town of Herndon or Vienna) because data is not tabulated that way. He said he is unsure of why the two numbers within the VSP report don’t mesh, but said figures from local agencies are not altered in any way and therefore “what they gave us is what we published.”
Fairfax County, which tabulates its own statistics, reported in late March that the county had only 8 homicide offenses in 2013, a 50 percent drop from the 16 in 2012.
Police spokesman Eddy Azcarate said he was the one who put together that report, which is titled: FCPD 2013 Group A Offenses. It is available online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov.
“We had a total of 8 homicide victims in 2013,” Ezcarate said. “We cannot speak to any discrepancy with other reports without knowing how they compiled their figures.”
But Azcarate said that in yet another report that was compiled by Fairfax County Police for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 2013 homicide arrests were listed at 17.
According to police, Fairfax County compiles crime statistics using two methods.
Part 1 crimes, such as homicide, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto thefts are compiled together using Unified Crime Reporting. Other crime statistics are compiled separately using Incident-Based Reporting, which has 22 separate categories and 46 categories. To complicate matters further, crimes against persons are calculated based on the number of victims, whereas crimes against property and crimes against society are calculated based on the number of events.
“It is very possible that the Fairfax County homicide numbers supplied to us represented some events in which there were more than one victim,” said Westerberg of the VSP. “It is also possible that there were attempted homicide charges included in the completed homicide category that did not belong there. I don’t really know the answer.”