Portsmouth city manager considers youth curfews, mentoring programs as part of new crime prevention strategy

Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — City-wide curfews, street light upgrades and youth mentorship programs are all new strategies being considered by the City of Portsmouth to curb violence, specifically youth gun violence.

Those initiatives were just a few included in City Manager Angel Jones’ much-anticipated crime prevention strategy first revealed Tuesday to City Council. While still in the development stages, the plan calls for a more data-driven approach than what has been used in the past, as working to change cultural norms through public-private partnerships.

Since taking the city’s top job in April, Jones said finding new ways to fight crime was a “top priority.”

“Crime is not unique to the City of Portsmouth,” Jones said. “Crime is happening all over our country, that’s why we are challenged to find creative ways to address crime.

Calls for further action on the city’s part have been growing since violent crime increased across the country last year. Portsmouth was not immune. The police department saw a more than 100 percent increase in homicides between 2019 and 2020.

In 2021, there have been 17 homicides detectives have investigated, per Interim Chief Burke Scott Burke, including one in the city’s main business district Monday night.

Mimi Terri, the city’s chief financial officer, told council it’s important for the city to understand what issues contribute to crime in the city before they try to solve it. Principally, she connected it to poverty, personal low-self esteem, unemployment and alcohol and drug abuse.

“If you’re not able to provide for the entire family as an impoverished individual, at some point, you may consider taking a negative path in order to take care of the family’s needs,” Terri said.

Jones said the first step in her plan is to identify Portsmouth’s “crime profile.” Ranking Portsmouth’s safety — on a scale where 100 is safest — the city leaders say their community receives a 1 when compared to data from other U.S. cities.

She wants to compare Portsmouth’s issues to other cities issues to see if there is anything in particular driving crime, so they can figure out the best ways to address it.

Much of those decisions will be made in concert with the new police chief, who Jones said she plans on hiring by the end of the week.

However the presentation laid out several actions already being pursued and considered.

Jones said they are looking to work with Portsmouth Public Schools to extend youth programs along with the department of parks and recreation.

“We definitely need to revamp our programs and ensure we are providing those services to our youth to engage them and give them hope,” Jones said.

Requests have also been made with Dominion Power to start enhancing lighting within high crime areas, similar to what has been done recently in Newport News.

Jones said efforts will include continuing to recruit new police officers to address the department shortage and redirect patrols in neighborhoods based on crime factors.

In the future, Jones said she is also not ruling out setting city-wide curfews for kids as well as city-wide mentorship programing in peak crime areas.

“The youth mentorship program is by far the most significant because what that does is give our youth someone that has experience who can talk to them directly and meet them on their terms,” Jones said. The city will in turn use youth feedback to craft additional programs.

The plan will not be in full effect for several months, Jones said, but encouraged council members to look at the “long game” approach.

Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes, who has been the chief critic on City Council on what he had described as a lack of efforts by the city, proposed also giving funding to private community groups to help address issues on the street.

Jones said nothing is off the table.

“We’ve got to throw out the old playbooks,” Jones said.” Those are not issues the city can address alone.”

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