CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Mayors, city managers and administrators from across Hampton Roads met for the first time Friday afternoon with one common goal: to begin to discuss ways to collectively address violent crime.
Several cities in the region saw their highest homicide rate in decades in 2021, and in the last two weeks more than 20 people were shot, several of them killed.
The meeting was called by Mayor Bobby Dyer of Virginia Beach and Mayor Donnie Tuck of Hampton. Dyer said they must start somewhere.
“We must come together and collaborate,” Dyer said opening the meeting repeating his habitual refrain of “violence knows no borders.”
In this case, those present inside the board room at Hampton Roads Regional Building validated his statement.
“It will take all of us coming to the table to get ahead of this issue,” Amanda Jarratt, manager of the City of Franklin, said. She said oftentimes, those committing crimes in her city of a little more than 8,000 are coming from larger Hampton Roads cities.
Aside from Hampton, Franklin and Virginia Beach, officials from Chesapeake, Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Poquoson and Isle of Wight County were present.
Bob Crum, Hampton Roads Planning District’s executive director, led the workshop and had each municipality share what efforts they had underway individually to combat crime before opening the floor about what more could be done as a region.
Dyer said he felt it would be best to come up with short-term and long-term plans.
The most common short-term plan floated was to step up enforcement.
“A region enforcement strategy where all localities together embrace an enforcement of codes, drugs enforcement, traffic enforcement, CUP enforcement for those who have operate restaurants with entertainment,” Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander said.
Just this week, Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer announced plans to step up the code enforcement of bars and restaurants after a quintuple shooting in the heart of the business district last month.
Alexander went on to say that in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, “we may have experienced some softening” of enforcement. Norfolk did indeed pull back on one of its police reforms at the request of the police chief.
“We have to have a concerted effort to enforce the laws. Immediate. No tolerance,” Alexander said.
Others mentioned the importance of bringing others into the conversations about violence, too.
Specifically, Portsmouth City Manager Angel Jones said judges and prosecutors need to be at the table.
“Right now, we have 21 violent criminals out on bond in our city — 21. Where I come from, that would be unheard of,” Jones said. “Part of it is changing the narrative. We don’t want to be a city where everyone expects crime.”
What the group plans to do moving forward isn’t exactly clear. Crum said he would be looking to meet with several city managers to come up with next steps that may include smaller working groups.
Suffolk Mayor Mike Duman said what is clear to him, is that doing nothing is not an option.
“If our citizens do not feel safe. In their communities or in their homes. They will have zero quality of life,” Duman said.