Lots of crime in Roanoke? Yes, and here too

Sign of the times
Sign of the times
Sign of the times

Big debate underway in Roanoke right now over whether or not the city is a dangerous place to live.

A real estate blog says Roanoke had the highest crime rate among 37 cities in Virginia in 2012.

Law enforcement authorities say otherwise, claiming violent crime dropped 41 percent that year compared to 2005.

As Mark Twain once observed:  “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics.”

A photographer friend who works for The Roanoke Times says the paper should be called “The Crime Times” because so much space is dedicated to stories about those who either break the law or find themselves victimized.

Roanoke deputy police chief Tim Jones blames the media because of the concentration of news about crime.

Stories about crime do dominate news, not only in Roanoke but also in surrounding communities like Floyd County.  Circuit Court took up two days this week in Floyd, a town where that court used to meet just twice a month.

On Monday, I started the day with a jury trial against Bobby Lee Pack, a local charged with five felonies that involved production of the highly-addictive crystal methamphetamine that both Sheriff Shannon Zeman and Judge Marc Long calls “an epidemic” in the county.

Tuesday was a “normal” day for the court with the usual round of cases involving malicious wounding, grand larceny, drug manufacturing, prescription drug fraud and probation violations.

Illegal drug use, manufacturing and distribution are rampant in rural areas like Floyd County and an increase in drugs brings a hike in other crimes like break-ins, grand larceny and theft to support drug habits.

The Floyd County Sheriff’s Department does a good job of tracking down and arresting those who break the law.  Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Shortt has a good record of prosecution and Long is a tough judge.

But Zeman needs more deputies, patrol cars and resources.  Shortt needs a full-time assistant prosecutor.  She most likely will get funds to keep a part-time assistant on board for another year.  Circuit Court now meets weekly and sometimes more than once a week.

With crime is rampant here in a rural setting, it stands to reason that it also is a problem in the Roanoke metropolitan area where the population is ten times higher and propensity for illegal activity more available.

Is it crime time in Southwestern Virginia?

Yep.  In the old TV series Baretta, actor Robert Blake, who played the title character, used to say: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

Nowadays, dealing with crime keeps some of us so busy that we don’t have time for it or anything else.

Anything we can do about it?

Good question.

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1 thought on “Lots of crime in Roanoke? Yes, and here too”

  1. History has shown us that whenever you make a substance illegal, you drive up the cost and make criminals of users. First, just using makes them criminals. Second, a criminal record keeps even recovering users from finding employment that will sustain them and their families. Making criminals of manufacturers and purveyors makes sense, but making criminals of users does not. There is ample evidence that treating use as a public health problem in need of treatment is much more cost-effective than treating use as a crime in need of punishment. Treatment programs and drug courts make more sense than prisons and jails. Substance use is not about public safety, it is about public health. It only becomes a safety issue when you ignore the treatment needs of the user and force users into the criminal justice system. Treat substance use as the public health problem it is and you can free up your courts and save money, because treatment is always cheaper than incarceration. Prohibition should have taught us one thing: outlawing a behavior never works. In fact, prohibition makes the situation worse. Public health programs have a remarkable success record: clean water; mosquito abatement; no polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, or rubella; etc. Malaria used to be endemic to the South. When was the last time you heard of a case of malaria? Let’s get away from the “tried and failed” methods of the criminal justice system and start going with the “tried and true” methods of a health approach. As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” The choice is pretty clear. You can have taxpaying citizens in recovery or you can have tax-using citizens in jail. Seems a no-brainer to me.

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