Prince William’s overall crime rate fell by about 1% in 2018, while overdose deaths, murders, assaults on police officers and DUI arrests were on the rise, Police Chief Barry Barnard announced Thursday.
Barnard released the police department’s 2018 Crime Report at an afternoon news conference Thursday, July 18.
The overall crime rate was 12.9 crimes per 1,000 Prince William residents in 2018, down from 14 crimes per 1,000 residents in 2017. Murders, rapes, aggravated assaults, robberies, burglaries, car thefts and larcenies are used to calculate crime rates.
“Prince William County has been a safe community, and continues to be a safe community,” Barnard said. “We’re an important element of keeping Prince William safe but there are a lot of stakeholders, and that’s what it takes today … It’s not just us.”
While the overall crime rate has dropped, crime in some categories has increased significantly in the last year. Overdose deaths rose 11.3% in 2018, with 59 deaths, up from 53 in 2017. There were 50 opioid overdoses in 2018, and of those, 40 were fentanyl overdoses.
Police officers carry the life-saving overdose drug Narcan, and all the department’s officers are trained to administer the drug, according to officials.
“We continue to have a very strong concern about opioid overdose deaths,” Barnard said. “We need to do everything we can as a community to reduce this number.”
Nine murders in 2018
Murders also rose in 2018 – there were nine murders last year, an increase from four in 2017. Firearms were used in six of the 2018 murders. Stabbings and blunt force trauma were the mode of killing in the other three cases. In all but one the murders, the people involved were acquainted with each other.
Assaults on police officers increased 12.8% in 2018, part of a steady increase over the past five years. There were 167 assaults on police officers in 2018, according to the crime report, an increase from 148 in 2017.
DUI arrests increased by 20.9% in 2018. There were 1,379 DUI arrests in 2018, and 1,132 DUI arrests in 2017. Barnard reiterated that driving under the influence is a crime and not just a traffic offense that puts the community at risk.
“There are awful stories about losing lives in Prince William County due to drunk driving,” Barnard said. “It injures and kills and tears families apart.”
Rapes and aggravated assaults reported to police dropped significantly in 2018 after several straight years of increases. There were 83 reported rapes in 2018, down from 112 in 2017. There were 500 reported aggravated assaults in 2018, down from 576 in 21017. Robberies, burglaries and larcenies also saw significant declines in 2018.
Mental health calls
Barnard and other officials at the press conference brought specific attention to an increase in mental health calls to the police department, and the increase in the number of hours needed to address citizens experiencing mental health crises.
The number of mental health calls made to police increased 3.8% in 2018, but the amount of time spent on mental health calls rose by 31.5%, with police spending 15,672 hours on mental health calls in 2018.
“It’s a stressful world we live in, and we get calls every day from people experiencing mental health crises or difficulty in their lives, and we want to help them as we can,” Barnard said.
Major Dawn Harman, assistant chief of support services, said police are often the first-responders for citizens experiencing mental health crises, especially if the incident occurs outside of business hours when the county’s mental health services aren’t readily available.
“We do a lot of training so that officers can determine the difference between a state of intoxication and a state of mental illness,” Harman said. “However, we’re not trained professionals as far as mental health therapists. In order to really address this issue, we need additional resources in this county in the form of mental health therapists and crisis assessment centers.”
Major Jarad Phelps, assistant chief of operations, said the uptick in mental health calls is a priority that requires an increasing amount of time and resources from the county’s police department.
“It’s a state issue. It’s not going away, and in fact it seems to be progressing as far as the number of calls we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Phelps said. “It’s concerning because it takes the staff away from dealing with other issues on the street.”
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org