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Public Safety

Public Safety indicators in this section identify important statistics for Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Wayne Counties as well as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. These statistics are used to evaluate the health and efficiency of safety services. They cover crime rates, drug-related offenses, vehicle crashes, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offenses, alcohol-induced crashes, domestic violence offenses, and police officer and fire department numbers.

Generally, this section of the report includes indicators that help measure the quality of life in Pennsylvania. A low crime rate typically makes an area attractive to potential residents and businesses. Additionally, it is an indicator of the social well-being of a community because crime is interrelated with other social, economic, and public health problems such as unemployment, poverty, and substance abuse. Breaking the cycle of poverty and crime requires tremendous effort. However, this effort can be rewarding in terms of quality of life and economic success. Strong public safety, social service, educational, and health care infrastructure working together with government and community members are integral.

Northeastern Pennsylvania generally remains a safe area for a region with its size and socioeconomic characteristics, and by some measures, it is getting safer. In all three counties, several categories of property crimes analyzed in this report have dropped overall in the past decade, driven largely by falling numbers of burglaries and larceny-theft offenses. Some large year-over-year shifts, however, may be influenced by changes in the ways law enforcement agencies categorize certain offenses.

Property crimes like burglary and theft are often associated with drug addiction. Drug abuse offenses, however, have primarily risen in the last ten years as the region deals with the fallout of substance abuse disorders – particularly those specific to heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine. While Luzerne and Wayne Counties have seen slight declines for the past three years, Lackawanna County experienced an uptick in drug abuse offenses in 2021.

Violent crime statistics have been uneven in recent years. In the 2021 preliminary data, Luzerne County saw the total number of violent crimes fall to the lowest it has been in a decade, declining for a third consecutive year. Violent crime reports have fluctuated greatly in Lackawanna County, growing in 2018 and 2019 before falling in 2020 and 2021. Wayne County also saw violent crimes decrease in 2021.

Safety in schools is of utmost importance. Reported school misconduct incidents, which cover a variety of activities including fights, disorderly conduct, other harassment or intimidation, bullying, and possession or use of tobacco or controlled substances, fell to low levels during the 2020-2021 school year amid remote learning. In the 2021-2022 school year, these incidents rose to new highs statewide and in all three counties. While this is a troubling trend, there has not yet been a corresponding increase in juvenile arrests, which fell in 2021 and remain well below pre-pandemic averages. This suggests that while school behavioral incidents are more common, many are not severe enough to result in an arrest.

There are a little over 1,000 municipal police officers employed in the three counties, including a larger share of part-time officers compared to Pennsylvania as a whole. However, 37 percent of the municipalities in the region use State Police coverage rather than municipal police forces, and several other federal, state, and local agencies have active roles in law enforcement in the region. Many municipalities have reported on the challenges of recruiting officers given the current workforce environment.

Motor vehicle crashes can, unfortunately, result in fatalities and injuries. In Luzerne County, the total number of fatal crashes rose from 34 in 2020 to 40 in 2021. Lackawanna County had a decline in the number of fatal crashes in 2021 but an increase in the number and share of crashes involving injuries. In Wayne County, both the total number of fatal car crashes and crashes involving injuries increased from the 2020 total. These trends are largely due to resumption of normal travel after pandemic-related dips in traffic. The total number of alcohol-related crash deaths decreased slightly in Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, whereas Luzerne experienced an increase from nine crash deaths to 12. The number of pedestrian crash fatalities remained relatively stable in the region, accounting for five percent of the statewide total. While motor vehicle accidents may be nearly impossible to completely eliminate, improved education, enforcement, and infrastructure can significantly improve public safety.

There were 117 fire departments in the three-county region as of 2022. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some fire departments in Pennsylvania are experiencing difficulties recruiting and retaining volunteers. There were 3,568 volunteer firefighters in the three-county region in 2022, comprising about 87 percent of the area’s total firefighting force.


Property Crime

In 2021, Lackawanna County’s total number of property crimes continued a sustained downward trend – standing at 1,893, 35 fewer than the year before. Since 2012, property crime totals in Lackawanna County have been reduced by 59 percent. However, motor vehicle thefts in the county grew to the highest level since 2017.

Luzerne County’s total property crime figures entered the eighth year of decline in 2021, at 3,647 property crimes reported – the lowest among the years analyzed. Property crimes decreased one percent overall from 2020 due to declines in larceny-theft and arson. However, there was a slight uptick in burglaries and motor vehicle thefts in the county. Overall, property crimes have declined 54 percent in Luzerne County since 2012.

In Wayne County, the total number of property crimes decreased by 23 percent in 2021. Burglaries and larceny-theft have experienced significant declines, whereas motor vehicle theft and arson crimes have slightly increased in the county. Property crimes have declined by 64 percent since 2012.

Unlike the improvement trends in the three-county area of Northeast Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth saw a slight uptick in property crimes in 2021, ending a nine-year consecutive streak of declining property crimes and increasing by one percent from the prior year. Nonetheless, property crime statewide remained far below levels seen prior to 2020.


Violent Crime

Lackawanna County experienced year-over-year increases in the number of violent crimes reported from 2013 to 2019, including a 31-percent increase in 2019 – the highest in the last decade. Then in 2020, the total number of violent crimes decreased by 35 percent as the total number of these offenses fell from 1,420 to 926. As of 2021, the total number of violent crimes in Lackawanna has declined further, falling to 451. This total is the lowest in the county since 2015. This trend has been driven primarily by a decrease in aggravated assaults; at least a portion of these considerable year-over-year changes may result from crimes being classified into other categories not counted here.

Luzerne County reported 606 total violent crimes in 2021 – a 12-percent decrease from the prior year and the lowest level reported in the last decade. Except for the number of rape offenses that recorded an increase of eight, all other categories of violent crimes declined in the county from 2020, with a 16 percent decrease in the incidence of murder, 37 percent decline in robberies, and nine percent decline in the number of aggravated assaults.

Wayne County reported a total of 45 total violent crimes in 2021, which is an 18 percent decrease from 2020, and the lowest level reported in the last decade. Except for the number of murders, of which none were recorded in 2020 or 2021, all other categories of violent crimes declined in the county since 2020.

There was a decrease in violent crime across the Commonwealth in 2021 (the second consecutive year). It declined by two percent to 36,086, due to the drop of robbery and aggravated assault offenses. The number of murders, however, increased by 12 percent from 2020, and reached the highest level of all years analyzed. Overall, violent crimes statewide are 21 percent lower than the totals reported a decade ago.

Total Property Crime

Source : Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System.
*2019-20 data from SRS summary report

Total Violent Crime

Source : Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System.
*2019-20 data from SRS summary report

Drug Abuse

Drug abuse offenses include the manufacture, sale, and possession of drugs. Since 2012, the number of drug offenses in Lackawanna County has increased each year except for a small drop in 2017 and then a more substantial drop in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when offenses decreased to 766. However, drug abuses offenses in the county rebounded to 887 in 2021. Despite slight declines of one percent in 2020 and three percent in 2021, Luzerne County has generally experienced significant growth in drug abuse offenses since 2012. There were 2,170 total offenses reported in 2021, almost twice the level reported in 2010. Wayne County, in contrast, had only 97 total drug abuse offenses in 2021, which is the lowest total since 2015. The county’s total decreased by 44 percent from 2020. Across the commonwealth, drug abuse offenses followed a generally upward trend from 2009 to 2017, before beginning to decline. This decline has accelerated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with a 23-percent decrease since 2019.

Drug Abuse Offenses

Source : Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System
*2021 data is preliminary. 2020 data has been updated.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Offenses

Lackawanna County’s total number of DUI offenses has fluctuated over the last decade, with a significant declining trend since 2016. There was a slight increase in 2021, however. The number of DUI offenses in Luzerne County has declined ten percent from its peak of 1,325 in 2017 to 1,189 in 2021. In Wayne County, the total number of DUI offenses has also steadily decreased since 2018. As of 2021, the county experienced a 32-percent decrease from 2020, ending with a total of 70 DUI offenses.

Statewide, the total number of DUI offenses increased for the first time in ten years. In 2021, the DUI offenses increased by eight percent, but remained well below levels seen prior to 2020. DUI offenses in Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Wayne Counties typically account for around four percent of all DUI offenses in Pennsylvania.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Offenses

Source : Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System.
*2021 data is preliminary. 2020 data has been updated.


Alcohol-Related Crash Deaths

Five alcohol-related crash deaths were reported in Lackawanna County during 2020, and only three deaths were recorded in 2021. Over the past decade, Lackawanna County has averaged five alcohol-related crash deaths per year. Luzerne County’s average number of alcohol-related crash deaths per year has been about 11 over the last ten years. The total number of deaths reported in Luzerne County more than doubled from four in 2018 to ten in 2019, and increased to 12 in 2021. In Wayne County, the total number of alcohol-related crash deaths decreased from three to two in 2021. This is the lowest total in the county since 2018, when there were no alcohol-related crash deaths recorded. Statewide, the number of alcohol-related crash deaths has followed a downward trend for most of the decade. Total statewide deaths increased by six percent in 2021 and are 23 percent lower than they were a decade ago. The three-county region accounts for an average of 5.6 percent of all alcohol-related crash deaths statewide.

Motor Vehicle Crashes

In 2021, motor vehicle crashes in Lackawanna County increased to 2,459, ending three consecutive years of decline. Motor vehicle crashes also increased in Luzerne County, rising by 14 percent to 3,377. The total number of motor vehicle crashes in Wayne County increased by 17 percent in 2021. In all three counties, the number of crashes increased from their 2020 totals, which likely results from the restrictions of the pandemic coming to an end and a subsequent increase in travel. The Commonwealth’s total also increased, reaching 117,899 crashes. In all cases, the total crashes in 2021 were still lower than levels seen before the pandemic.

Statewide, the number of crashes resulting in injuries has increased by 13 percent. Similarly, the total number of crashes that caused fatalities rose from 1,060 in 2020 to 1,153 in 2021. A larger number of crashes have resulted in property damage only. This increasing trend extends to all three counties as well. The long-term decline in the share of crashes with fatalities and/or injuries is likely attributable in part to safety innovations in vehicles.

In 2021, there were ten pedestrian crash deaths in the three counties combined (an increase of two from the prior year) and 182 statewide. Each of the three counties have ranged from zero to six pedestrian crash deaths per year for the years analyzed, with no clear upward or downward trend. The 45 pedestrian deaths since 2017 represent about five percent of all statewide pedestrian deaths in that period, though the region represents only about five percent of the Commonwealth’s total population.

Alcohol Related Crash Deaths

Source : Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Total Crash Deaths

Source : Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Pedestrian Crash Deaths

Source : Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Offenses Against Children and Families

Offenses against families and children include abuse of spouses and children, child neglect, and nonpayment of child support and alimony. Although there has been some fluctuation in the number of these offenses reported in the three counties, as of 2021 the total increased 29 percent to 533 offenses.

By 2021, offenses against Lackawanna County families and children dropped to 141. There was an increase in Luzerne County, however, with total offenses rising 50 percent to 383 (after a decrease of two percent in 2020). In Wayne County, offenses against families and children increased by one in 2021, below the average of 13 seen over the past decade.

Statewide, the number of offenses declined for its third consecutive year in 2021. There had been an upward trend statewide since 2012, including a substantial increase since 2014. Total offenses across the Commonwealth have increased by over 40 percent in the past decade.

Offenses Against Families & Children

Source : Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System.
*2021 figures are preliminary. 2020 figures have been updated.

Police Personnel

Municipal police forces in the three counties employ over 1,000 officers as of early 2023. This accounts for just under five percent of the statewide total, though in the three counties, there is a larger share of part-time officers compared to Pennsylvania as a whole. In Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Wayne Counties, 31 percent of municipal police officers are part-time, while the share is only about 12 percent statewide.

These municipal police statistics exclude personnel from several other law enforcement agencies that serve the region, including Pennsylvania State Police. In the three counties, 74 of 144 municipalities (51 percent) have their own municipal police forces, while 16 (11 percent) contract with other municipalities for police protection. Another 53 (37 percent) municipalities use State Police only. Finally, one municipality in Luzerne County utilizes regional police service.

Municipal Police Officers: 2023

Source: PA Department of Community & Economic Development

Full TimePart Time

Pennsylvania Fire Departments

As of early 2022, there were 36 fire departments in Lackawanna County, 68 fire departments in Luzerne County, and 13 fire departments in Wayne County. There were 4,092 active firefighters across the three counties. Approximately 87 percent were volunteers and less than 10 percent were career firefighters.

Pennsylvania Fire Departments: 2022

Source : U.S. Fire Administration National Fire Department Registry

School Safety

School safety incidents include a range of misconduct. A large share of incidents involve fights, disorderly conduct, minor altercations, other harassment or intimidation, bullying, and possession or use of tobacco or controlled substances. The number of reported incidents declined in all three counties and statewide during the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19 prevention and mitigation plans for schools. In 2021-22, the number of reported incidents rebounded above pre-pandemic levels. There were 894 documented school misconduct incidents in Lackawanna County, 1,489 in Luzerne County, and 184 in Wayne County. Statewide, school misconduct incidents increased significantly as well.

Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties’ rates of incidents per enrolled student was lower than the statewide average, but the most recent rates were the highest among years analyzed. Wayne County had a slightly higher rate per student than the state as a whole for the last two school years.

School Misconduct Incidents per 1,000 Enrolled Students

Source : PA Department of Education Safe Schools

Juvenile Arrests

Juvenile arrests shown here pertain to arrests made for several categories of crimes included in the Uniform Crime Report, such as violent crimes, liquor law, drug possession, and others. Juvenile runaways are excluded.

In 2021, the number of juvenile arrests declined statewide and in all three counties. They declined eight percent since 2020 in Lackawanna County, while falling 16 percent in Luzerne County (to 433). In Wayne County, total arrests declined 39 percent (to 23). Statewide, juvenile arrests declined seven percent (to 18,885). Across these regions, there has primarily been a downward trend in juvenile arrests since 2011 – reaching the lowest levels in a decade in 2021. All three counties have seen declines of more than 64 percent compared with 2009, and the Commonwealth registered a 79-percent drop during that time.

Juvenile Arrests

Source : Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System
*2021 figures are preliminary. 2020 figures have been updated.