Downtown crime: Reading the statistical tea leaves
A series of seemingly random attacks in and around the Downtown Mall this summer have not only sparked fear and outrage in the hearts of Mall visitors, they've also sparked a number of debates: whether the threat has been exaggerated by the media, how the threat, if it exists, should be addressed, if the threats are really new at all, who the attackers are and why they are doing it, how race might play into the situation, and even if cameras should be installed on the Downtown Mall.
To help put the issues in perspective, the Hook asked the Charlottesville police department for crime data on the Mall from the beginning of 2004 to July 13, 2007. In addition to a compilation of total crime listed by category, Lt. David Shifflett Jr. of the Crime Analysis Unit also provided detailed information on violent crime pertaining to victim/offender relationship, weapon used, and injury to provide a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding each reported incident. The map photo (left) shows the area that was studied in and around the Mall.
While aggravated assaults (assaults involving a weapon) have remained steady, between 7 and 9 a year in the period studied, simple assaults (assaults where no weapon was used) have risen from 29 in 2004 to 46 in 2007, and the year isn't over yet. However, in each year nearly half or more of the offenders and victims in these simple assaults knew each other. Also, the victim knew the offender in 6 of the 7 forcible rapes reported.
So what's the most common crime in and around the Mall? In the period studied, there were 49 aggravated assaults, 58 incidents of shoplifting, 82 thefts from a vehicle, 107 thefts from buildings, and 136 simple assaults.