The attorney general, police chief and sheriff said community policing, officer retention and a wholehearted community effort play a key role.
Portsmouth, Va. – Thursday night, three branches of law enforcement came together in Portsmouth to figure out the way forward.
More than 100 people have already been shot in the city this year, and the new interim police chief said something has to give.
Community policing, officer retention and a whole-hearted effort from the community: Attorney General Jason Miares, Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore and Portsmouth’s new interim police chief Stephen Jenkins said they will help curb the rising violence in the city.
“Everybody has to get involved,” Jenkins said.
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More than 100 concerned citizens gathered to hear what the three leaders had to say.
Portsmouth, the smallest of the seven cities, has the highest homicide rate in the region. Some of the problem comes from 18% of the population living below the poverty line and 23% of the population under the age of 18, Jenkins said.
“Because juvenile offenders are difficult to solve … we want to give them a chance to reform,” Jenkins said.
Everyone in this country has been through a tremendous amount of trauma in the last two years, Miares said, which has made the problem worse.
“Many young people are looking for money, power and respect in all the wrong areas,” Miares said.
Community policing and confidence-building strategies are essential, he said. Moore agrees and emphasizes the need to get ahead of crimes before they happen.
“We have to make efforts to get into the communities,” he said.
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Jenkins said it addresses some of the root causes, such as mental health and poverty.
“There are a lot of problems that we’ve turned a blind eye to,” Jenkins said.
13News Now asked Interim Chief Jenkins how much of a role gangs play in the violence. After a series of shootings last month, rumors of a gang war had broken out on social media.
“We have to be very careful about how we label a person. Just because you have a group of people who hang together and do certain things, that doesn’t mean they’re a gang, but it’s an easy word to throw out there,” he said.
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However, he acknowledged that the city deals with gang problems, whether they are local to Portsmouth or spill over the border from other cities.
“Not everything that happens, not every shooting that happens is gang related. You know, he did something to me and I have a problem with him,” he said.
Virginia lawmakers recently passed a law that makes it illegal for police to stop or search a vehicle because it smells of marijuana, has a broken brake light, defective equipment, etc.
The goal was to reduce racial profiling, but Miares and Jenkins said it had unintended consequences. Now, he said, it is difficult for police to find illegal guns or drugs in vehicles.
“Good intentions don’t always lead to good results,” Miares said.
Jenkins said methods must be adopted to get guns and drugs off the street.
The attorney general said officer morale is very low across the board. A lot of that comes from community perception and low wages, Moore said. He said a lot of his delegates from Portsmouth, who pay $34,000 a year for Chesapeake, pay $50,000.
He said local administration should not only hire good people but also look at what it takes to retain them. If they are retained, the trust in the society will increase.
“If you adequately fund these agencies, you’ll see a lot of progress in what they’re able to accomplish,” Jenkins said.
Miares said another key factor is keeping repeat offenders off the street. He said he’s all for second chances and reform, but there’s a line when it comes to someone with a long rap sheet of violent crimes.
Miares, Jenkins and Moore all agree on two basic things: Law enforcement alone can’t solve the problem, and neighbors need to once again look out for each other.
Overall, he said, the ideas shared tonight should live behind the stage.
If you want to watch the entire forum, you can watch it on Facebook.