Josh Bergeron: FBI data provides some context for voters with crime in mind

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 31, 2021

When Salisbury voters fill in bubbles on their ballots Tuesday, many will be doing it with crime on their mind.

This year has brought increases in violent crime, including shootings and homicides. There have been more murders in the city of Salisbury this year than the previous several. After record lows in 2019, other violent crime statistics could finish higher this year, too.

As a result, a substantial swath of voters is saying, “We’ve got to do something about this.” That’s reflected in the fact that most Salisbury City Council candidates say crime and public safety are the most important issues.

Salisbury isn’t alone in facing a recent increase in crime. When the FBI released its 2020 nationwide statistics last month, the first sentence of the news release got straight to the point, “For the first time in four years, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation increased when compared with the previous year’s statistics.”

Salisbury had been on a downward trend until 2021, Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes said.

“2021 is presenting challenges,” Stokes said. “Violent and property crime are trending up this year. Sadly, we are at a high for homicide this year. That is what the rest of the nation is seeing — big jumps in violent crime.

“That doesn’t make it OK that everyone is having the problem. So, we are doing our best to get back to some of those efforts that got us to 2019 that the pandemic stopped.”

As a general rule, the FBI’s crime data explorer online is a good tool for people looking to explore local crime trends because the data comes directly from the Salisbury Police Department. It also shows data back to 1985. However, it appears to misstate some parts of local data. That’s important to call out because the numbers will be repeated online by dozens of websites that name communities “the worst” or “the best” at one thing or another.

There’s no record low reflected in 2019, for example. It’s not exactly clear why, but FBI numbers show that crime was basically flat or up slightly from 2018 to 2019.

“I unfortunately have a hard time reconciling the FBI numbers and our numbers,” Stokes said. “For some reason there seems to be higher numbers reported by FBI than us.”

Stokes wasn’t able to account for any data mistakes before 2016 — when he became police chief — but the FBI’s data shows there is generally more violent crime reported today than in 1985 — when data starts. FBI data show 117 violent crimes reported in 1985 compared to 251 in 2020.

Data show property crimes in 2020 (arson, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft among them) were the lowest on record. Property crimes also represent a majority of crimes reported —1,218 property crimes compared to 251 violent crimes.

Stokes said 2020 was a good year in terms of low property crime, but there are unique caveats. They include COVID-19 keeping people in their homes when they might have been out and about — making their homes targets for burglaries. That crimes such as burglaries are declining is “a really good thing,” he said.

“A residential burglary has a real effect on people’s sense of security safety,” he said. “We did a lot of public campaigns to get folks to ‘lock it, take it or lose it’ and we saw a significant decline in thefts from autos.”

Estimates for the value of property stolen is an interesting feature of the FBI data, but it’s not an exact science either. Stokes says the numbers come from the victim or officer making an educated estimate of value. It’s only exact when stores can provide a retail value of the item stolen.

The following are numbers for the total value of items stolen in 2020:

• $833,534 in stolen motor vehicles

• $377,277 in miscellaneous

• $83,695 in office equipment

• $62,071 in currency

• $48,022 in consumable goods

• $23,071 in TVs, radios or stereos

• $22,414 in jewelry and precious metals

• $19,559 in clothing and furs

• $15,087 in household goods

• $5,403 in livestock

For folks voting with crime in mind, 2021 is on track to be a bad year. That’s a fact. The challenge will be deciding whether a council member or mayoral candidate has good solutions for a spike after several years of decline.

To read council member and mayoral candidate plans, read the Post’s voters guide published Oct. 19 and distributed with that day’s print edition or visit the online version at

The FBI’s crime data explorer can be found at

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.