Online News Outlet Puts Virginia Governor's Claim to the Test

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Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell reports that the state's crime is plummeting. He credits the decline with the state's elimination of the availability of parole to the state's prisoners in 1995. The online news outlet, Politifact, tested the governor's claims in a variety of ways.

The statement, "our crime rate continues to plummet," was examined from the very simple perspective of the dictionary definition to a report from the Department of Criminal Justice. The dictionary definition of the word 'plummet' suggests a sharp drop-off; Virginia's crime rate does not reflect a literal drop-off.

Next, real evidence was examined. Two separate reports were studied to find out the true story behind Virginia's crime statistics. They were directed, by a spokesman for the governor, to The Virginia State Police’s report titled Crime in Virginia and Department of Criminal Justice Services’ report Virginia Crime Trends 2000-2009.

Crimes fall into two categories: violent crimes are mostly crimes committed against other people like rape, murder, and robbery. Property crimes are not actually against people, such as burglary, arson, or theft (of course if your house is burglarized it will feel very personal!).

According to Crime in Virginia, violent crime dropped 4.9% between 2009 and 2010. Standing alone, that statistic seems to somewhat support the governor's claim; but taken in comparison to a national decline in violent crime of 5.5%, Virginia's crime rate falls short. Property crimes in Virginia have followed the national trend, declining at a rate of 2.8%.

So, according to these statistics, Virginia's crime rate has dropped; but crime in the whole country has dropped more!

To be fair, the Governor did allude to the crime rate since parole was abolished, so the crime rate since 1995 must be studied. They were able to examine the crime rate from 2000-2009, and violent crime fell more sharply by 4% in Virginia than the already impressive national average of 15%. Property crimes fell as well, but not as sharply as the national average.

Although experts do not see a correlation between crime rates and the end of parole, they do cite an aging population and a decline of the use of certain drugs. Crime is decreasing throughout the nation and everyone is taking credit!