VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — That time of year is just days away– thousands of people will pile into the area for the tourist season. And you know people have been itching to visit after being cooped up during the coronavirus pandemic.
This week, 10 On Your Side is looking ahead to the summer season with “Operation Oceanfront” — a three-part investigation into preparations for what officials hope will be a summer of recovery from COVID-19 and social unrest over the past year.
Businesses, residents and local leaders have been discussing safety at the Oceanfront frequently over the last year or so. Recent shootings on March 26, one of which was officer-involved, left nine injured and two dead and sparked more attention to how to increase safety.
In the wake of those shootings and other issues that have prompted safety concerns, leaders are working to assuage the worries of those living, working and traveling in the resort area.
“We hope our presence deters some of the behavior, the undesirable behavior that we have seen in the recent past,” Virginia Beach Deputy Police Chief of Operations Sean Adams said.
On Saturday, May 15, 10 On Your Side went to some clubs on 21st and Atlantic. At 10 p.m. there was almost no police presence. We found Aja Pleasant standing in line to get into one of the clubs.
“As far as police as a whole, I am surprised there aren’t more police officers out here at night,” Pleasant said.
However, at 1 a.m., just a few hours later, it was a different story. Police officers were visible everywhere.
Adams calls it the layered approach to law enforcement.
“This is one of the layered approaches, and we want to make sure we have the right police presence, and the right enforcement strategy that garners a family-friendly environment,” Adams said.
10 On Your Side asked a group of women visiting from Blacksburg, Virginia if they felt safe in Virginia Beach.
One woman in the group, Janie Rhodes, said she felt secure.
“Something I really like about Virginia Beach, I think it is really safe. As three women, safety is a big concern. They always have police around, and it’s really nice to know we can walk and not be in fear and scared,” she said.
City Council recently approved $500,000 for rent and expenses to open an Atlantic Avenue police sub-station in the 2100 block of Atlantic Avenue where the clubs are.
“But for those folks who come to the Oceanfront to do something other than to have a great time, then they have our attention, and we are going to focus on that,” Adams added.
It’s not online yet, but Virginia Beach is implementing “ShotSpotter” technology, which monitors sounds and alerts police to locations where the sounds of fired guns are heard.
“When folks hear gunshots, the data tells us 20% of the time they will call the police. So 80% of the time, we don’t know people have fired gunshots in the area,” Adams said.
The city realized due to past issues, more cameras were needed. They needed more eyes in the sky that can help identify troublemakers.
“We have additional cameras. We have folks that monitor those cameras, and they help direct officers to areas where there might be problems, whether it is a traffic situation or a potential fight,” Adams added.
“We have dedicated officers that are surveillance-based that are out in the community, and we are working with our detective bureau or our undercover unit and special operations folks,” he said.
Adams says they are going to strategically focus on the crime.
“We have repurposed our community policing squads that we now call our crime suppression squads,” he said.
This is part of new Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate’s violent crime reduction strategy, which Adams says is working.
“After the shooting of March 26, or very shortly after that, we were able to get quick arrest warrants through the investigation, and we were able to pick up members who were involved in the shooting,” he said.
Adams says the results of the squads show immediate results.
“When we did that, we began to see over the next few weeks the crime come down and the violence come down,” Adams said.
It’s all about laser-focused attention on those who are driving the violence in Virginia Beach.
Adams calls the resort strip the most diverse environment in Virginia Beach.
And as far as peaceful social protest goes, Adams says you can stay on the boardwalk, sidewalk, just stay off Atlantic Avenue.
“It’s when folks step out into the street that is when we begin to experience that line between what we say is lawful, and what is not — and that is a delicate balance,” Adams said.
All of this hopefully will be instilling a sense of security for these visitors like Rhodes.
“We haven’t been here for a midnight, but I don’t think it will be an issue because I have been here before and there have been police around,” he said.
We asked Adams what the headline for summer 2021 will be.
“Come and enjoy Virginia Beach. We are still the safest city in the country for our size. We got the community’s back and we appreciate the community’s support, and we are a great community, and we are looking forward to a great summer,” Adams said.
Coming up Tuesday night on WAVY’s Operation Oceanfront coverage: What about the business of hotels, and restaurants and retail? What’s in store for them?