NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Questions and concerns have been raised one day after Governor Glenn Youngkin announced Operation Bold Blue Line, a new multimillion-dollar proposal to combat violent crime.
The proposal hopes to address many issues seen throughout the Commonwealth, from police officer recruitment, to their retention and pay.
Presented Monday at the Slover Library in Downtown Norfolk, the proposal includes $30 million for a nationwide and homegrown recruitment effort. It also includes $75 million in equipment and training for state and local agencies.
It’s a very large ask for much-needed resources across the Commonwealth, ones that have yet to go through the legislative motions in the General Assembly.
A missed opportunity for business involvement?
Across the street from Monday’s announcement sits the Legacy Lounge. It’s one of a handful of Downtown Norfolk businesses forced to shut down by City Council after having their conditional use permits revoked.
10 On Your Side asked the governor Monday whether he supported Norfolk City Council’s recent actions to revoke conditional use permits from businesses like Legacy Lounge.
“Each city is going to have to address this the way they think is best,” said Youngkin. “I think right now, given the level of violent crime, all things should be on the table. And I think if city, local leadership needs to take actions against businesses, that’s their discretion to do so.”
Airay Jordan was one of many people to lose their jobs following the business closures downtown. The single mom worked as a bartender at Legacy Lounge. She and her other former coworkers drafted a letter in response to the proposed plans.
Dear Governor Youngkin,Legacy Lounge Employees
I was very excited to hear about your recent visit to Hampton Roads yesterday. Your Bold Blue Line initiative is very much needed and having worked in Downtown Norfolk, I appreciate your willingness to come and bring attention to the issue. However, Governor I have a hard time understanding some of the confusion that came out of what you said. The Bold Blue Line initiative is fighting crime and that is so important. Norfolk’s removal of Conditional Use Permits is fighting small businesses and that is insane.
Governor, we reached out to you weeks before you went across the street and made an announcement surrounded by Norfolk City Council. The same City Council that has accepted our votes and ignored our voices and I am asking you to not do the same. I have co-workers and managers from Legacy Lounge that voted for you and defended that vote until some of us questioned your proximity to our jobs as complicit in the termination of our jobs. We are college students, veterans, single mothers and caretakers who cannot pay our bills because the City Council is making decisions without dialogue. I am asking you, please Governor Youngkin, do not disregard our situation as City Council has. If you will not talk to us, send someone who will.
We asked the City Council to be fair and they said no. Over 1,000 people signed a petition asking the city to provide some kind of job fair or informational resource so we can regain some kind of footing, and they have ignored us. I take some comfort in your past as a former dish washer in a restaurant sir. It gives me some hope that maybe we’ll be heard. On behalf of my co-workers, and hundreds of employees terminated by City Council’s votes, we are not asking the government to be fair this time, we are just asking you to be!
She says the Governor had a missed opportunity to talk to people like her.
“He was right down here on both cross streets where everything was going on. So it was a little embarrassing. It makes you feel unimportant,” she said.
She feels businesses and their owners should be involved in the discussions for the proposals announced Monday.
“Speak to the business owners. Just allow them to, you know, be heard. All of them. And then […] but put yourself as a human first,” said Jordan.
Jordan isn’t the only one expressing some concerns.
Problems for prosecutors
Norfolk Commonwealth Attorney Ramin Fatehi was one of many commonwealth’s attorneys not in attendance Monday. He says he feels the proposals left out one major group, prosecutors.
“If the Governor and Attorney General wanted to help local prosecutors, they would support the full funding of local prosecutor’s offices,” he said.
He and other commonwealth’s attorneys were invited. Fatehi, however, was at Duke University speaking to law students during the press conference, but says he ultimately didn’t go to the announcement with Youngkin after his office didn’t provide him with details about the announcement.
After watching the press conference later, he felt like the proposal doesn’t do much to address problems prosecutors across the state are facing; many of the same faced by police departments.
“It widens the gap between the prosecutors that are doing this job every day and a non-lawyer like Glenn Youngkin or a man who spent two years prosecuting misdemeanors largely like Jason Miyares,” said Fatehi.
10 On Your Side specifically asked Fatehi about a remark made by the governor during the press conference. It was part of the elements Youngkin said needed to be addressed in order to properly combat crime.
“It is getting harder to get violent offenders off the street due, in part, to a lack of prosecutors. And candidly, in some cases, prosecutors who are willing to prosecute,” said Youngkin.
Fatehi says he doesn’t know a prosecutor who doesn’t want to prosecute to the best of their abilities based on evidence gathered by their respective police departments.
“Those of us who believe in data-driven, and modern ways of dealing with this want us to take all of the resources that we’re wasting and put them towards dealing with violence,” said Fatehi. “I’m willing to take criticism from anybody so long as that person is willing to give me the tools I need.”
The part of the proposal presented Monday addressing prosecutors is connected to an initiative from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) called Operation Ceasefire. As part of the expansion of program, the OAG will dedicate five to six cross-designated Special Assistant United States Attorneys (SAUSA) with the OAG to prosecute violent crime on a local level. The money will come from $5 million in funding allocated in the budget earlier this year by the General Assembly.
This move will ultimately allow the SAUSA’s to prosecute cases out from under local commonwealth’s attorneys.
Governor Youngkin says he believes this move helps them address a prosecutor shortage experienced across the state.
“If they were serious about public safety, they would ask the General Assembly to amend the code, require prosecutors in court on misdemeanors, and fund us,” said Fatehi.
10 On Your Side also spoke to Newport News Commonwealth Attorney Howard Gwynn. He said he supports the initiatives in Operation Bold Blue Line top help with officer recruitment and retention.
“Hiring five or six Special Assistant United States Attorneys doesn’t help me in Newport News,” he said. Gwynn added that his office needs help hiring prosecutors already.
Operation Bold Blue Line still has to be presented to the General Assembly for a vote before funding can be allocated to the initiative.
Read more about the program here.