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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

There are more car larcenies in James City County than Williamsburg. Here’s why

While it may seem safe in Greater Williamsburg to just leave a car unlocked while running into the grocery store, law enforcement is warning locals of the risk involved.

“Thefts from autos are more often crimes of opportunity,” said Frank Schmalleger, a professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice at The University of North Carolina. “So, if you leave your keys on your console, or in your visor, then you present an opportunity.”

In James City County, car larcenies are one of the most common crimes, according to the James City County Police Department. In 2017, James City County had 244 incidents of car larcenies and in 2018 as of Nov. 19, there were 149.

Data from Williambsurg Police show there have only been 35 cases of car larcenies up until December 2018 in the city.

That’s 114 less than James City County.

Schmalleger argues that location is a factor in the number of car larcenies.

“It’s not so much the condition, or physical deterioration, of a neighborhood as it is the physical layout that contributes to these crimes,” he said. “Poorly lighted parking lots, isolated parking spots, visual obstructions (such as) walls, shrubbery…probably contribute the most to these kinds of offenses”

While Williamsburg has a population of 15,031, which is less than James City County (75,524), the population in Williamsburg is far more densely packed.

There are about 1,559 people per square mile spread out over nine miles in Williamsburg; in James City County there are only about 470 people per square mile over 142 miles, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

This means that in James City County where residents are more spread out, individuals that are committing these larcenies might find more locations with fewer people.

“These incidents often occur in spurts with no real pattern,” said Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for James City County Police. “Generally, offenders will hit a particular neighborhood or area during the same night, so there will be several at a time.”

But Williamsburg Police Maj. Greg Riley said the few larcenies that do occur in the city usually happen in areas where there is a large number of cars in one location, such as at shopping centers.

“When people leave things in plain view and that criminal is walking throughout parking lots, there can be a lot of stuff to tempt them,” Riley said. “They’re going to look for cars with unlocked doors more than you’ll see people breaking windows. It’s easy for people forget to just press that (lock) button, but just doing that and keeping your items covered could make a big difference.”

But it is difficult to determine what demographic of individuals are committing these crimes of opportunity, Schmalleger and Riley agree.

Schmalleger said since not everyone who commits these crimes are arrested, it is almost impossible to pin down what kinds of individuals are stealing from cars. However, a national data shows young males between the ages of 16-24 are typically the perpetrators.

One of the best solutions is to protect your items by locking your vehicle and covering anything of value, Riley said.

As the holidays come around and locals are filling their cars with presents for loved ones, both James City County and the City of Williamsburg want residents to remember that presenting opportunity can be all it takes for a person to steal from a vehicle.

“Thieves will take anything of value they can get,” Riley said.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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