PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — As of July 7, 22 people have been shot to death in Portsmouth since the start of the year, and at least 80 have been injured in shootings, according to data collected by 10 On Your Side’s investigative team.
The Portsmouth Police Department has alerted the public to a shooting nearly every two days this year. In March, city police reported that violent crimes were up 56% in the first quarter of the year compared to the same time period in 2021.
Watch the full town hall below:
Our investigative team built a new tool to help you track gun violence in your neighborhood. Click here to view and interact with the map.
As neighborhoods bleed and families mourn, city leaders and advocates are searching for a way to take back their community from violent crime.
Their latest effort comes in the form of a town hall to address violent crime that was held at the New First Baptist Church at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 7. Community leaders, like Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore and Bishop Barry Randall, joined by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares had a community discussion about the violence plaguing the city.
“I am hopeful that the Office of the Attorney General will be able to offer additional resources to the various public safety departments of this city (police/sheriff),” Randall told 10 On Your Side in a statement. “With Portsmouth being short staffed within the police department, a newly-terminated chief of police, and a city manager without any municipal government leadership skills, we need the state to step in and help us manage this crime epidemic.”
The town hall comes two days after Portsmouth’s latest police chief, Renaldo Prince, was fired by the same person who hired him — the newly-appointed city manager, Tonya Chapman. Prince worked under Chapman when she served as the city’s police chief, before she resigned in March 2019 citing racism within the department. Prince is the third police chief to leave the department in the same number of years. His predecessor, Angela Greene, was also fired.
Prince was scheduled to attend the town hall, but will not be present representing the department, according to PPD Sgt. Misty Holley. Interim Police Chief Stephen Jenkins attended in his place.
Staffing shortages, mental health and a broken relationship between citizens and the city local leaders say are all contributing to crime in Portsmouth.
“Nobody should be looking over their shoulder in fear. That’s not a way to live your life,” said Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares.
Miyares, a Hampton Roads native, stressed the importance of community policing, keeping violent offenders off the streets and mentorship for youth.
In Thursday’s town hall, Miyares spoke of his plan to bring the Virginia Rules Program to the city which is Virginia’s state-specific law-related education program for middle and high school students. Virginia Rules educates young Virginians about state laws and helps them develop skills needed to make sound decisions, to avoid breaking laws, and to become active citizens of their schools and communities.
“Everybody has to get involved. Please stop looking for the next person to do it,” said Interim Police Chief Stephen Jenkins.
Jenkins who is 48 hours into the new role plans to reach out to other agencies in the 757 to share officers on days where the department is especially short-staffed and to repay the favor when other cities ask for help.
“Don’t tell me that we as law enforcement don’t care. Nobody joins this profession to get rich.” Jenkins told the audience.
Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore revealed his growing need for good deputies as many have left their jobs to go to other cities where they could be making $50,000 a year starting out compared to Portsmouth’s $34,000 a year.
“We have to have a government that has a daily conversation,” Sheriff Moore explained.
Chief Jenkins wants to continue moving forward with some of the initiatives put in place by his predecessors but also is working on a plan to incorporate new ideas.
“I’ve stood over too many Black children, young boys, girls and had to go and tell their families, their mothers, their fathers that they were not coming home,” Jenkins said.
When asked about the chaos surrounding his recent upgrade to interim chief, Jenkins said that he’s more concerned about his officers and citizens of the city and keeping it safe.
“Anything else, I have to try to block out as much noise as possible. Keep my head down, go to work and do my job,” Jenkins concluded.
Jenkins is expected to come out with his detailed plan to fight crime and violence in the coming weeks.