PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — While the streets of Portsmouth were met with shootings this past week, local leaders met to make a change.
“The FBI came out, the Attorney General’s office, and they said we wanna help Portsmouth. One of the things they wanted to be able to do was get some stakeholders,” explained Pastor Kelvin Turner with Zion Baptist Church in Portsmouth.
He quickly became one of those stakeholders that filled a group of several other professionals working in social services, law enforcement, schools and prosecutors. Together, they make up what will be Portsmouth’s version of the Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN).
“The Safety Neighborhood Project is a project that began some 20 years ago and it’s around the country,” explained Turner. “It’s in all 50 states, but it’s to help neighborhoods combat safety and violent issues within their communities.”
Project Safe Neighborhoods is in cities like Detroit. Now, it’s also starting up in Portsmouth.
The United States Justice Department program describes itself as “a nationwide initiative that brings together federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials, prosecutors, community leaders, and other stakeholders to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in a community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.”
“It’s a challenging time for the city of Portsmouth,” said Turner. “This is our way of saying we’re tired of the nonsense, we’re tired of the violence, we’re tired of the shooting, but we can’t look at anybody else to solve it. We have to be a part of the solution.”
As part of that solution, PSN identifies past offenders outside of jail and sits them down to learn where they need help.
“Many of them find themselves in a situation where they don’t feel like they have a support system,” said Turner. “Project Safe Neighborhoods lets them know, ‘Hey we’re in this together.’ Part of being in this together means we need to make sure our communities are safe.”
A major goal of the initiative is to incorporate research and data analysis, and lessons learned from other violent crime reduction initiatives, to inform its decision-making on the most effective violence reduction strategies.
Pastor Turner hopes the exposure to resources will start to hold offenders accountable to make a change, not just for themselves, but the kids watching them.
“It’s to not just make it great for today, but to make it great for tomorrow,” said Turner.
The group has already met twice and plans to meet again in the near future to start the project. They will receive funding the first year and hands-on help in developing the program in its early stages.