NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The Newport News Police Department credits its hard-working officers and community for the drop in overall crime the city saw in 2020.
In a press conference at police headquarters Friday, Chief Steve Drew went over all the accomplishments his department completed, and also said what they’ll be working on for 2021.
“I want to be open and transparent, open those doors to the community. I think it’s paying off,” Drew said.
Drew started off the press conference by saying 2020, like for many others, was a hard year for them. In January, Officer Katie Thyne was killed in the line of duty during a traffic stop.
“She gave her life in the line of duty to this city, to this department, a year ago tomorrow. That started off a rough year for us,” he said.
Drew says overall, crime rates dropped by 14%. However, aggravated assault — which includes shootings, beatings, stabbings, and strangulations — went up nearly 13%. Drew blames domestic violence for that spike.
“For about five or six months [at the onset of the pandemic], our top call for service was domestic situations. We were responding to about 20 calls per day. So, 20 times 30, that’s over 600 calls a month for domestic situations,” he said.
Drew says that shootings only increased from 79 in 2019 to 81 in 2020 — and most of those cases were cleared.
The department had an above national average rating for crime clearance and it’s another thing he’s proud of.
“This is a direct result of citizing working with officers,” he said.
Officers also seized 1,076 illegal weapons off the streets and responded to 173,654 calls for service, according to Drew, who was amazed the department only had 80 citizen-generated complaints.
He says the department is working on communication, with training for domestic violence situations as well as for people with autism, and will continue to learn more about technology and communication in 2021.
Drew also will mandate all officers to complete implicit bias training by the end of the year. He says the biggest obstacle they faced with making sure officers were trained was getting people in to train them.
Now, there are 10 officers on staff who have been educated in implicit bias. They will teach the rest of the department.
“How we treat people matters. We’ve seen this across our country,” he said.
Drew also highlighted the incorporation of a domestic violence team, the creation of the 21st Century Policing series for community awareness, and fully staffing their 911 call center for the first time in 30 years.
Officers also focused on reducing crime in three neighborhoods: Dresden Drive/Trisha Lane, Marshall Court Apartments, and the Beechmont neighborhood, which saw a 28% decrease in crime.
“When I look at our strategies and initiatives, crime continues to go down. We’re not there yet by any stretch of the imagination. We have a long way to go. I want to make sure those strategies and initiatives work,” said Drew.
While crime decreased, Drew says suicides and overdoses spiked and believes it’s due to the pandemic.
“I think it’s important we know what these numbers are and that officers know what these struggles are that individuals face,” he said.
The department will continue to work on those community relationships and interactions for 2021.
They plan on focusing again on geographic areas such Beechmont, Randolph/Bellwood, and Marshall Court.
Drew says other goals and initiatives include working on the MARCUS Alert Task Force, conducting new training on de-escalation, focusing on mental health for second responders, focusing on technology, and running the YAPC program.
“I want to continue to build on that,” he said about strategies, programs, and relationships that are working for the department. “We do not have all the answers. We make mistakes. I make plenty of them. It’s okay to say we’re sorry but we’re better today than we were yesterday, and we’ll be better tomorrow than we are today.”
The department will also focus on recruiting more women. Drew says their next academy class is 50% female and he also hopes to increase female leadership.
He credits his officers and team for doing so much through the year and for the upcoming year.
“I can not be more honored to work with such talented people sworn and civilian both. I want to start by telling them thank you. They make a difference,” he said.