Violent crime in Roanoke holds steady after last year's increase bucks downward trend

A 10 News Crime Tracker report examines trends in the city

ROANOKE, Va. – New statistics show violent crime in Roanoke is holding steady after an increase last year, which came after a record low the previous year.

Police consider violent crime to be murder, sexual assault and rape, aggravated assault and robbery. Reported violent crime statistics show there was nearly a 30 percent increase in violent crime in Roanoke last year from 2015, according to statistics the state released earlier this summer.

“We think we're still in a downward pattern, a holding pattern. We're not quite sure why there's been this uptick,” said Dr. Donald Shoemaker, a crime specialist and professor at Virginia Tech.

Roanoke police say the numbers this year are holding mostly steady. They show just under a 5 percent decrease so far in 2017 in violent crime compared to the same time period last year.

Even with the elevated reported violent crime numbers over the past 19 months, they are still lower than they were in 2013.

2015 concluded the significant downward trend, marking the lowest total in at least a decade and a half, going back to 2000. 2006 was the high point. Violent crime decreased more than 204 percent from 2006 to 2015.

Violent crime went up more than 10 percent across Virginia last year compared to 2015. Every category saw an increase, including homicides, which rose more than 25 percent. Shoemaker says it’s hard to pinpoint the causes.

“You could have, for whatever reason, a lot of social inequality, economic inequality. People could react to that, joblessness for example,” he said.

He says economic trends often don't affect violent crime. The economic struggles in 2007 and 2008 didn't have an immediate negative effect on violent crime.

Radford University Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Tod Burke says there are always multiple reasons for fluctuations.

“Crime rates have dropped significantly over the last decade and even a little bit before then, and there are a lot of factors that can contribute to the change in crime trends,” he said.

He says the most important one initially is whether people trust law enforcement.

“The police can come up with whatever strategy they want, but without the cooperation of the community, nothing is really going to happen,” he said.

Compared to this time last year, reports of aggravated assaults are up in Roanoke but robberies are down.