An overall increase in serious offenses met with a dramatic drop in minor offenses in the Town of Vienna during 2006 when compared with the previous years’ records, according to annual crime statistics released by the Vienna Police Department in April.
Police are pointing toward an "unusual" 400 percent increase in robberies in the area last year, particularly those of banks, as a primary reason for the 13 percent increase of more serious "Part I" offenses reported in Vienna. Robberies increased from four in 2005 to 12 last year.
In a memorandum presented to town officials that summarized the recent statistics, Police Chief Robert Carlisle noted a 126 percent increase in bank robberies throughout Fairfax County last year.
While reports on Part I offenses as well as calls for police service were up as a whole in Vienna in 2006, Carlisle and police continued to point to a general decline in crime trends in Vienna of all offenses over the past several years.
During that same time, less serious "Part II" crimes, such as assault, driving while intoxicated and drunk in public, were down nearly 20 percent, statistics show.
"It was a disappointment to see some of the numbers that were out … obviously we always want to do better," said Mayor M. Jane Seeman. "But I think in general people think it’s a safe community and I think our police department does a great job keeping it that way."
THE REASONS BEHIND the nature of this year’s statistics and why more serious crimes have risen while less serious have been in decline are difficult to pinpoint accurately, according to Captain Mike Miller of the Vienna Police Department.
"I couldn’t really tell you that I’m able to put my finger on it," Miller said. "It’s sometimes difficult to take a look at one year, when you have a very limited sample, and say that there is an overall rise in crime or that the community is any less safe."
All crimes reported in Vienna have declined about 15 percent since 2001, according to police records.
But percentage increases or decreases can be misleading when viewing crime trends, particularly when a police department is operating in a community with a relatively low level of crime to begin with, Miller added.
"With a one or two crimes committed in some categories, I don’t think that the percentages will often accurately reflect the reality," he said.
There was no clear reason for the increased number of bank robberies experienced throughout the region last year, as well as a slight rise in larceny and shoplifting, considered by the state to be a Part I offense, which had accounted for most of the 13 percent increase, Miller added.
"Maybe you can attribute that to economic conditions, maybe people were finding it more difficult to get by and that might cause them to look for other methods," he said, "you just don’t know."
THE SAME LACK of clear reasons apply when viewing the decrease in less serious offenses, which Miller said he could not, for the most part, attribute to any changes in department policy or number of active duty officers on patrol.
"I wish I could say that it was an increase in patrols or something we did, but I really don’t know," he said.
The sole exception to that is the decline in arrests of people driving while intoxicated in town, the fifth year in the last six in which charges decreased from the previous year, according to Miller. Increased media exposure on the negative effects of drinking and driving, heavier penalties and a general change in social understanding of the crime have resulted in the downward trend that continues in Vienna, he said.
"There’s been a lot of education, a lot of enforcement, there has been an overall increase in emphasis on bringing this down and I think it’s starting to pay off," Miller said.
POLICE METHODS and tactics in dealing with crimes and criminals have remained the same in 2007, despite some of the changes in crime numbers, Miller said.
"I don’t think it’s dangerous [in Vienna], I think it’s one of the safest communities to live in," he said. "Even though [some crime numbers have] increased from last year we’re still right at average or below where it’s been the last few years and we take pride in that."
Good regular communication exists between the police and the town’s elected officials who Seeman said always work closely to provide local authorities with any tools necessary to keeping the community safe.
"If the chief felt that there was something that he didn’t have that he could use to increase public safety, he would have it," she said.