Reported crimes in Charlottesville and Albemarle County have fallen over the last decade while jail bookings have risen, according to data collected by the Jefferson Area Community Criminal Justice Board. However, according to law enforcement officials, the causes for these shifts are more complicated than a first glance may indicate.
Neal Goodloe, a criminal-justice planner with the Criminal Justice Board who works with the Office of Offender Aid and Restoration, compiled data from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, seeking to examine changes among the localities the jail serves — the city, county and Nelson County.
According to the data, since 2009 reported crimes have fallen by 29% in Albemarle County and 48% in Charlottesville while felony bookings are up 38% in Charlottesville and 79% in Albemarle County. Each booking accounts for one charge placed against a suspect and an individual can be booked multiple times in relation to the same incident.
Misdemeanor bookings have increased by 10% in Albemarle and fallen by 17% in Charlottesville. Probation violations have seen a sharp upward trend, increasing by 109% overall since 2009.
Over the same time period, booking events — which are recorded for each person processed into the jail on a given date and can encompass numerous bookings — have increased by 3%.
The reasons for these changes are difficult to nail down, Goodloe said.
“There is no one reason why felony bookings are up while reported crime is down over the last 10 years,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate why felony bookings are up but I would caution that this data does not indicate any one variable led to the changes.”
Greg Jenkins, deputy chief of support services for the Albemarle County Police Department, echoed that sentiment. However, he did outline changes the department has implemented since 2009 that he believes have influenced these trends.
In 2012, ACPD started a policy of geographic policing, assigning a small core of officers to exclusively patrol sectors of the county. Jenkins said this was done in an effort to help police more effectively build relationships within the community. In general, the methodology has been successful, he said.
Additionally, the department has become better trained and has increased focus on specific areas such as domestic abuse, crimes against the elderly and internet crimes against children, he said.
“By focusing our policing in certain areas, we’ve been able to make a real impact on the community,” Jenkins said. “Charges from these focused areas have likely risen due to our higher clearance rates.”
According to data collected by ACPD, reported crimes were up this year between June and August, while the number of charges placed was lower as compared with the same time period in 2018.
Jenkins also pointed to an increase in probation violations, which according to the data compiled by the Criminal Justice Board, have seen a significant increase in the last decade.
In a written statement, the Charlottesville Police Department also attributed much of its increased felony bookings to probation violations.
“While the Charlottesville Police Department has not seen as much of a significant increase in bookings as neighboring agencies, there are several factors that can contribute to the data. For example, probation violations count as bookings, which are overseen by Offender Aid and Restoration,” the statement reads. “However, as previously reported in our 2018 Annual Report, CPD is pleased to see a decrease in violent crime statistics, which can equate to a decrease in bookings over the next 10 years.”
Albemarle County has seen a rise in various felony charges, including sex and weapon offenses and violent crimes. Robert Tracci, the county’s commonwealth’s attorney, attributes the increases to a few factors, including changes in the city police department’s staffing and the newer areas of focus in county policing.
“Some of this difference may be attributable to the fact the city of Charlottesville has lost a significant percentage of its police force, while ACPD has reached nearly full staffing,” Tracci wrote in an email. “ACPD has also attached greater priority to white-collar crimes, and elderly abuse and exploitation cases, many of which result in multiple counts of obtaining money by false pretenses, grand larceny, or other felony property crime bookings.”
Over the last few years Albemarle has seen an increase in its utilization of the regional jail while the city has seen a decrease, which Tracci attributes, in part, to the Charlottesville General District Court’s usage of Offender Aid and Restoration supervision.
“A contributor to jail utilization is the difference between the city and county district courts concerning pre-trial release subject to OAR supervision,” he wrote. “The county General District Court tends to disfavor this approach, while the city historically has not disfavored pre-trial OAR supervision.”
In a written statement, Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania said he was pleased to see a 12% decrease in the number of people incarcerated on city charges between fiscal years 2017 and 2019.
“During that same time frame, there has been over a 20,000 day decrease in the number of inmate bed days utilized by city of Charlottesville inmates,” he said. “There is a very intentional effort made by the attorneys in this office to seek alternatives to incarceration for individuals that do not pose a threat to the community or themselves.”
The population of the local jail is often in flux, Martin Kumer, ACRJ superintendent, said in response to the data. In recent years, the numbers of arrests made and charges placed in Albemarle County have grown, he said, though roughly 50% of those arrested in a certain locality are not residents of that locality.
“Having more people incarcerated from one jurisdiction does not mean that crime is higher in that area,” he said. “People assume that if a population is up, that means crime is up, but that’s not really how it works.”
Nelson County, for example, has seen an increase in bookings and incarcerated individuals despite seeing a small decline in population during the same 10-year period.
In general, Kumer said individuals are not spending longer amounts of time at ACRJ, with the average inmate spending around 30 days behind bars. However, individuals locked up for probation violations spend much longer at the jail, averaging between 90 and 120 days.
Preaching caution, Kumer said there are at least 20 to 30 variables that influence the population of jails like ACRJ and that without looking at each arrested individual and what they’re charged with, it’s difficult to determine exactly what may be leading to an increase in population.
The Jefferson Area Community Criminal Justice Board is not alone in its efforts to track trends at ACRJ and in the community.
MGT Consulting Group has been studying data from local courts, arrests and the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail for the past year to determine the extent of disproportionate arrests of minority residents, as well as the disparity in charges and punishments. That report is expected later this year.