PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — New Portsmouth City Manager Tonya Chapman held her first press conference on Thursday morning alongside Interim Police Chief Stephen Jenkins to discuss future initiatives to counter crime in the community, defend her qualifications for the role and to push back on what she insists are false rumors being circulated.
Watch Thursday’s full briefing below. (Note: there were some audio issues at times.)
She spent a lot of time defending her qualifications and intentions of taking the role, talking about her previous work history as police chief in the city and her master’s degree in business administration giving her the background to work with city officials and manage the city’s budget.
Crime and gun violence was a major focus, and Chapman said that crime went down under her watch as police chief. She also talked about how she instituted police engagement initiatives that are still being used today such as community walks.
Her recent appointment as city manager has been surrounded by controversy, with one resident calling the four-member majority’s efforts to bring her in “strange and inexplicable.” That included a compensation package and a $200,000 salary, which she said Thursday was “at the low end of salary range.”
She will also receive a $400,000 severance payment if she is fired without cause before this time next year.
A movement has been started to recall the two council members at the head of the effort, Portsmouth Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes and Councilman Mark Whitaker.
Chapman on Thursday said she was contacted by a council member about the position, but would not say who that person was. Whitaker though was the one who nominated her.
She said that since starting, she has sat down with each council member individually and does support a possible council retreat (proposed for the fall by the vice mayor) in the fall to try to bring members together.
However, when asked by WAVY’s Andy Fox, Chapman said it wasn’t her responsibility as city manager to ensure council works together.
“It’s my responsibility to oversee the departments … I work for council. And I will work with each of them individually to ensure their goals and objectives are met, and that is my goal.”
Chapman was the former police chief in the city, but resigned in 2019, saying she was forced out because of her efforts to make changes in the police department. In her third day as city manager, she fired Police Chief Renado Prince.
On Thursday,, Chapman says she’s pleased with Jenkins’ performance as interim chief at the time and hopes he’s able to take the permanent role.
Chapman outlined her aspirations for her new role, saying she wants to “make strides in crime reduction, “enhance economic development,” “ensure social equity for all,” and “create opportunities for unity.”
She denied rumors that she says are false and were circulated to sabotage her career, including that she had an inappropriate relationship with a colleague and that she failed to intervene in a robbery, saying she didn’t know about it until after and that she was off-duty at the time.
“It’s not my character and it’s not who I am,” she said.
More specific initiatives announced included “ROC the Block,” which stands for “reclaim our community.” That will focus on high crime areas, with Chapman conducting community meetings and surveys to discuss issues and get citizen input.
“Whether they want high visibility [from police], patrols, or whether they want targeted enforcement of individuals who are wreaking havoc in their neighborhoods,” Chapman said. “… I will be out in the community … our plan is to put Portsmouth on the map in a positive way.”
She also rolled out a new slogan, “share if you care,” similar to “if you see something, say something,” and says the department will have community walks with officials from every department. Chapman said an example is behavioral health passing out information about mental health resources.
“I brought those community walks and initiatives here to Portsmouth, and I plan to take it to next level to have all the city departments and agencies incorporated in those efforts. I will be out in the community trying to get a better understanding of their issues and concerns and we are going to address it city wide.”
He also emphasized getting out of the patrol car and getting into the community.
He said his officers will also have more “high visibility” patrols with running lights that he says will bring awareness of police and serve as a deterrent. He also said the city will see increased traffic stops, which he framed as being more about “education” and community building than focusing on arrests.
He also spoke about several initiatives that focus on using technology such as cameras that can be monitored, license plate readers and other tech such as ShotSpotter.
When asked about cameras and transparency by WAVY, Jenkins said he would not commit to immediately sharing videos for all situations such as police shootings, but said they would evaluate each case individually.
Jenkins was asked about the recent police shooting of Andre Rawls and said he’s deferring the release of material in the case to Virginia State Police at this time.
Read more of WAVY’s coverage on Chapman here.