Why Is The Crime Rate So High In Roanoke Virginia Violent crime rates have surged in Roanoke compared to 2019 levels, prompting city officials to take action. The Roanoke Police Department reports a significant increase in violent incidents, necessitating a comprehensive response.
Recent Tragedy and Escalating Violence
The latest tragedy occurred when a man lost his life after being shot on Sunday night in northwest Roanoke, with his passing marking the 17th fatality due to shootings in the city this year.
The surge in violent crime in Roanoke coincides with the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the city witnessed an alarming 80% rise in gunshot wounds compared to 2019. Even when compared to 2018, the numbers reveal a troubling 17% increase in gunshot injuries.
Efforts to Address Violent Crime
In his annual report to the city council in 2021, Roanoke Police Chief Sam Roman highlighted a 6% increase in gunshot injuries in that year compared to the previous one. Reducing violent crime has become the department’s top priority.
Addressing this pressing issue involves a multifaceted approach. According to Caitlyn Cline, a public information official for the RPD, there is no simple, step-by-step solution. Instead, it involves:
- Community Outreach: Engaging with local communities to build trust and collaboration.
- Training: Ensuring officers are well-prepared to handle violent crime cases.
- Partnerships: Collaborating with federal law enforcement agencies to tackle crimes that may have a broader scope.
The aim is not only to respond to violent crimes but also to prevent them by addressing underlying issues and building stronger community ties.
National Crime Trends
Nationally, there has been a focus on crime in political campaigns, but according to the Pew Research Center, data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2021 showed no significant increase in the overall violent crime rate in the United States. However, there was a notable rise in the murder rate during the pandemic, with the CDC reporting a 30% increase in the U.S. murder rate between 2019 and 2020.
In a survey by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, homicide and rape totals decreased in their U.S. member cities compared to the previous year. Still, robbery increased by approximately 13%, and aggravated assault numbers rose by about 3%.
Challenges in the Roanoke Police Department
One critical challenge faced by the Roanoke Police Department is staffing shortages, which have plagued law enforcement agencies across the country since 2020. From January 2020 to October of the following year, 108 officers left the RPD.
In 2019, the department had 249 officers with nine vacancies, but as of October of the current year, they had only 202 sworn officers and 43 vacancies. Various factors contribute to this shortage, including officers seeking better compensation, childcare difficulties, and a desire for improved work-life balance.
Additionally, the heightened demand for police accountability following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 has impacted staffing. Officers sometimes felt unfairly held accountable for actions of others nationwide.
Changes in Traffic Enforcement
In response to staffing shortages, the RPD dissolved its traffic unit division in 2020 to prioritize responding to emergency calls promptly. During the pandemic, many police departments nationwide reduced traffic enforcement to limit virus exposure, and Roanoke was no exception.
The General District Court in Roanoke City saw a significant decrease in traffic cases in 2020, falling by about 41% compared to 2019. In 2021, the decrease continued, with approximately 59% fewer traffic cases than in 2019.
However, Roanoke County’s General District Court experienced less severe reductions in traffic cases in 2020 and even a rise in cases in 2021. Roanoke Police Chief Sam Roman emphasized that comparing traffic enforcement between the city and the county may not provide a fair assessment, given the differences in call volumes and priorities.
Increased Traffic Fatalities
While the number of crashes in Roanoke City has remained relatively stable since 2019, there has been an increase in traffic fatalities. In 2019, only five people died in traffic-related incidents, but this number rose to 13 in 2020 and 10 in 2021. This increase mirrors a national trend of rising traffic fatalities, attributed to factors such as speeding, lack of seatbelt use, and alcohol.
Addressing Staffing Shortages and Ensuring Safety
To address staffing shortages in the Roanoke Police Department, city leaders have taken several steps:
- Increased Starting Pay: The starting pay for recruits entering the Roanoke Police Academy was raised from $38,639 in 2020 to $42,500.
- Compensation Increases: A comprehensive compensation increase package has been approved for public safety personnel, resulting in a total increase of over $4 million for police officers since Fiscal Year 2022.
- Recruitment Bonuses: Recruits and certified law enforcement officers from other areas are offered sign-on bonuses.
- Frequent Academies: More frequent police academies have been held to attract new officers.
Efforts are also being made to restore various specialized units and maintain a focus on both violent crime reduction and overall public safety. In October, the Roanoke mayor and police officials announced Operation Bold Blue Line, a campaign to reduce violent crime through targeted measures, including recruitment efforts, resources for victims and witnesses, and community partnerships.
In the face of these challenges, Roanoke leaders are committed to enhancing public safety while addressing staffing shortages and evolving community needs.