PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY)– Crime rates are going up across the country, and it’s no different in our backyards. Portsmouth’s violent crimes are up 56% in the city in 2022 compared to the same time in 2021.  

The stories of the victims are especially close to one woman, Portsmouth’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales.

“For me, I’m in the trenches with this. There’s no pain like the pain I hear in the voices of these people,” Morales said.

Morales says the crime trends for her are more than just numbers. Each case has a face, a story, and heartbroken loved ones seeking justice.

While she and her team spend a lot of time in the courtroom, she also makes room for positive interactions in the community.

“There are these very positive, dynamic things going on, from often a place that’s only thought of as producing negative results because it results in either a conviction for someone or maybe the loss of life for someone else’s family. No one thinks of positive coming out of the court system, but we are fighting,” she said.

When Morales took office, she created two programs: the future leader’s initiative and the “control alt delete” program. The future leader’s initiative gives youth the opportunity to envision themselves as the future of the criminal justice system. They go through mock trials, sit in on cases, and meet judges and attorneys.

It’s been going on so long, some of the students have gone through law school and are awaiting bar results to try and become attorneys in the office,” Morales said. “So that program has come full circle.”

And from showing youth what their futures could look like, to going into jails and showing inmates they can change the trajectory of their futures. Morales’ “control alt delete” program supports people who have had problems with the law to reduce recidivism rates and re-entry.

“We interact with people before they get out to say ‘hey, this is how you can be successful; this is how we keep you out of the criminal legal system’ to try that preventative side,” Morales said.

But now that crime has seeped even deeper into the community, Morales understands her programs and going into schools aren’t enough.

“I would like to see a really robust violence interruption program put in place in the city of Portsmouth. This is not anything any one agency can do. This is something the entire government system and all systems of power from our education system to our court system to social services, behavioral healthcare services, probation, really every department we have.”

For example, she pointed out Cure Violence Global, whose violence intervention program was so effective, shootings went down 63% in New York City.

“We have to try something different that is something we have not had. I think there are efforts now to prop up violence interruption efforts and that’s great but I would like to have the guidance from some of these entities who have seen success,” she said.

Morales says she’ll continue to do what she can within her power, but the bottom line is that everyone needs to be on the same page to eradicate crime.

“What I hope to see is, despite any negativity that has happened, we will unify in this city, in this community,” Morales said.