Note: News Channel 11 chose to compare 2021 and 2019 crime statistics due to the significant drop in 2020 crime due to COVID lockdowns.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Northeast Tennessee’s three largest cities saw a collective drop in overall crime in 2021 compared to 2019, but aggravated assault, drug offenses, murder and weapons violations all rose according to an annual Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) release.
The data also show a continued trend of population-adjusted crime rates being highest in Kingsport and lowest in Johnson City, with Bristol in the middle of the significant gap between the two. Kingsport also reported a much higher rate of aggravated assault than the other two cities — triple Johnson City’s rate and 42% higher than Bristol’s.
Bristol posted the highest rates of drug/narcotics violations and weapons law violations, while Johnson City’s five 2021 murders gave it double the population-adjusted rate of the other two cities.
Even Johnson City reported a higher incidence of “Group A” offenses per 100,000 population than the state as a whole. The three cities’ rates of murder, aggravated assault and weapons law violations were lower than the state average, while drug/narcotics violation rates were higher and forcible rape rates roughly equal.
The figures come from the data-heavy “Crime In Tennessee” publication from TBI. The annual release provides statistics on offense, clearance and arrests for more than 60 categories of “Group A” offenses. Those include everything from crimes of violence against people, to fraud, theft and drug crimes as well as a separate category for crimes linked to domestic violence.
Total crime rates, arrest percentages and clearance rates
The big picture overview shows lower 2021 Group A offense rates per 100,000 compared to 2019 in both Kingsport and Johnson City and a slight increase in Bristol.
Kingsport, while still posting the highest rate at 12,034, dropped 18% from its 2019 rate of 14,322. That 2021 rate wasn’t far above Bristol’s 11,743, but it was 45% higher than Johnson City’s rate of 8,296. The statewide rate was 7,207.
Conversely, Kingsport had the lowest total of arrests linked to its 2021 crimes at 34%. Bristol’s arrest rate was 37% and Johnson City’s 40%, with that statistic representing 2021 arrests made for the incidents reported in 2021, meaning more arrests could potentially have been made this year.
All three cities had arrest percentages well above Tennessee’s statewide rate of 26%.
Those area arrest percentages represented slight improvements from 2019 in Kingsport, up 1%, and Bristol, up 2%, while Johnson City’s rate dropped by 4%.
The percentage of offenses that were “cleared” by the departments was well above the state average, which stood at 40%. Bristol had the highest regional clearance rate of 72%, with Johnson City at 68% and Kingsport at 53%.
Bristol’s clearance rate improved by 6% from 2019, Kingsport’s was 2% better and Johnson City’s was nearly identical.
Which offenses are rising where?
Drilling down in the data shows several interesting trends. One of those is a continued wide disparity in aggravated assault cases between Johnson City and Kingsport, which widened in 2021. That offense had a rate of 687 in Kingsport in 2019, which was almost 50% higher than Johnson City’s rate of 467.
In 2021, Johnson City’s total declined to 366 per 100,000 population. Kingsport’s was sharply higher at 1,111. But even going back to 2018, the difference holds, with Kingsport at 830 aggravated assaults per 100,000 and Johnson City at 429, barely over half Kingsport’s total.
Bristol, meanwhile, has seen its biggest increase in drug/narcotics violations. The city also has by far the highest rate in that category. Bristol’s 540 such violations in 2021 equated to 1,987 per 100,000. That was far above Kingsport’s ate of 1,274 and more than double Johnson City’s rate of 872.
Bristol has seen that rate climb since 2018, when it was 1,479, to 1,569 in 2019 before rising to its 2021 level. Kingsport’s drug violation rate has stayed within a narrow band with a high of 1,301 in 2019 and a low of 1,274 last year. Johnson City’s rate has also been consistent — 884 in 2018, 979 in 2019 and 872 in 2021.
Johnson City’s had no significant increases among the areas where News Channel 11 drilled down. It did report five murders in 2021 compared to just one in 2019. But the city does have the highest rate of murders for 2021 at 7.4 per 100,000, which is still well below the state’s rate of more than 11.
In the six year span of 2016-2021, Johnson City reported a total of 21 murders. Kingsport reported 18, which is close to the per 100,000 rate of Johnson City. Bristol reported 13, which is actually the highest per 100,000 rate over the six-year period.
One offense that has seen a steady rise in case rates is weapons violations. In 2016, the three cities combined had 162 weapons violations for a rate of 111 per 100,000 people. The rate rose slightly by 2018, then jumped to 169 per 100,000 in 2019. By 2021 it was 185 per 100,000, a 67% increase from 2016.
The highest rate of weapons violations has consistently occurred in Bristol. It was 294 there in 2021, compared to 172 in Johnson City and 148 in Kingsport.