Portsmouth interim police chief, City Council discuss gun violence, officer shortage in the city


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The topic of gun violence and what to do about it took center stage at the Portsmouth City Council meeting Tuesday night.

The police department briefed council members on crime in the city, but a recent shootout caught on surveillance cameras at an apartment complex this month put the issue in the spotlight.

Interim Police Chief Scott Burke released statistics that show the majority of homicides and robberies this year involved a gun.

The department is looking to hire more officers and possibly bring in outside help to curb the numbers.

“It seems like the guns are just everywhere,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas.

No one was injured in the shootout, which happened Nov. 9, but Councilman Nathan Clark said the video is eye-opening.

“This video will enlighten people as to what goes on on a daily basis in this city,” he said.

“A lot of our citizens are afraid right now,” said Mayor-elect Shannon Glover.

Burke said of the 29 homicides this year, 86% of them involved a gun. Although violent crime is down 7% compared to last year, Burke said vehicle burglaries are an issue as well.

“We’ve had approximately 20 firearms stolen from unlocked vehicles. Those guns then get out in the community,” Burke said.

The Portsmouth Police Department is using data to strategically place its violent crime task force around the city, but the department also faces a staffing shortage.

A full force is 259 officers, but there are currently only 192 officers with the department. That’s down from 218 officers at the beginning of 2020.

A recruiting initiative is underway. Burke said his department is partnering with the sheriff’s office for certain patrols, and they’re also looking to bring in a special division of state troopers.

The latter is a tactic that’s been used in the past.

“They focus on enforcement efforts in a number of cities,” Burke said. “We look forward to having them back.”

However, Burke said they can’t do it alone.

“We need the eyes, we need the ears of folks who are out on the street and we need the parents,” he said.

There was some confusion and frustration on the topic of staffing.

Councilman Nathan Clark said he was recently informed of an apparent hiring freeze at the department, but the specifics surrounding that freeze aren’t clear.

City leaders will be looking into the matter to update council at a later date. 

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