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Unlike City, Counties See Robbery Spike

The most recent robbery-turned-homicide of a 19-year-old VCU student in Byrd Park, who was shot in the back while trying to flee, serves as a painful reminder that high-profile robberies still seem exclusive to the city proper.

But suburban robberies, if lacking in profile, are beginning to catch up in numbers. Police statistics show that robberies in the city have been trending downward for several years, while robberies are on the rise in the neighboring counties.

The city still outguns everybody when it comes to robberies -- last year there were 971 — but the trend is shifting, albeit slowly, just across the city's borders.

Chesterfield County had 197 robberies in 2001, but last year set a record with 328. This year the county is on pace for more than 350 armed robberies, registering 93 in the first quarter of 2008 (through March 31).

A similar pattern is emerging in Henrico, which had 300 robberies in 2001 and reported 391 holdups in 2007, also a record. Through the first quarter, Henrico has bucked the trend early with only 77 robberies through March 31, down 20 from the same period a year ago.

While Henrico has been adjusting to more urban environs for years — hence more urban problems — Chesterfield is somewhat new to the game.

"I think Chesterfield is ongoing with a certain amount of urbanization," says Capt. Paige Foster of the Chesterfield Police Department. "But we don't know the causes yet."

Just ask Henrico. The county's eastern border melds almost seamlessly into the city, blurring the line between suburban county and city, not to mention poverty and crime. Of late, the county has seen an increase of armed robberies on the street.

"We have seen a lot more of the street-level robberies than the commercial robberies," says Lt. Doug Perry of the Henrico Police Department. "They are really spread out everywhere."

To many, robberies are among the first indications of true neighborhood decline. And even as the city has seen its homicide rate dip dramatically in the last five years, robberies have also declined overall. After spike in the second half of 2007, robberies have dropped 30 percent through the first quarter of 2008 — from 227 in the same period in 2007 to 156 through March 30 of this year.

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