Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont

That’s the answer.  Do you know the question?

It’s the list of states in the USA with a lower violent crime rate than Virginia.  We are #4.  Everyone else (including every single one of our neighbors) ranks behind us.

In 2012, Virginia had a violent crime rate of 190 incidents per 100,000 residents.  That is slightly less than half the national average of 387 incidents per 100,000.  It’s the same violent crime rate that Virginia had in 1960, when it was slightly OVER the national average.

For those of you who like crime statistics or simply remember the “good old days,” the USA was a relatively safe place until the 1960′s when violent crime (murder, rape, robbery and assault) began rising at a rapid rate.  Crime finally peaked in the early Nineties, when the national rate of crime was nearly 750 incidents, per 100,000 residents — and Virginia’s rate was about half that.  Relatedly, this was about the time that crack cocaine was most prevalent, especially on the East Coast.

Since 1992, Virginia crime has declined at slightly better than national averages, so that we are today one of the safest states in the nation — and the safest outside New England.

Why does Virginia rank so high?  I’m not sure.  Certainly, a lot of it flows from our higher levels of education and income in Virginia.  Our wealthiest counties, unsurprisingly, are also our safest.  However, it’s also true that both our suburban and urban areas stack up favorably with their counterparts across the Potomac and around the nation, even when the demographics are similar.  (You’re safer in Fairfax than you are in Montgomery County, MD, yet they both have an equal number of Starbucks).

Another difference may be our judicial philosophy, which is more likely to lock up violent criminals and keep them locked up.  Finally, our population is aging in Virginia (at least relatively) which usually leads to a drop in crime.

One thing is notable:  the popular perception is that Virginia’s firearm laws are very lax (the reality is more complicated, especially in regard to gun purchases).  Yet there is no evidence that we have a higher crime rate than neighbors whose laws are much more restrictive.  For example, neither Maryland or D.C. allows “concealed carry” privileges like Virginia does.

Anyway, those are the numbers.  (Thanks to the Senate Finance staff for putting this together as one of their dozen presentations this week).  The benefit is that we can spend less on corrections than than did the past generation.  That will lead to some interesting priorities as we enter the FY15-16 budget cycle.

More on that later …




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