VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Following last weekend’s deadly shootings at the Oceanfront, the Virginia Beach police need to know they are appreciated and need additional tools to help keep everyone safe, resort business leaders say.
In a letter unanimously approved by the Virginia Beach Resort Advisory Commission at their meeting Thursday afternoon, chairwoman BJ Baumann expresses her thanks for the officers’ work under “tense circumstances” and requests that City Council increase funding to the police department in their new budget.
Specifically, the commission is asking for money to allow the officers on the force to continue to be the highest-paid in the region — a distinction Norfolk is looking challenge — but also for new crime fighting technologies that the police chief has expressed interest in.
“Make sure we’ve got the tools in place to deal with the environment we are dealing with right now,” Baumann said.
Baumann, who also owns Rockafeller’s on Rudee Inlet, said the shootings that left two people dead and nine others injured last Friday is only the latest incident that has many business owners concerned.
She expressed in a presentation last summer that “intimidating crowds,” gun violence and overall reduced oversight are just a few of the factors that have led to a “loss of pride” along the resort’s Atlantic Avenue area in recent years.
A loss of pride that business owners can’t afford to bear following COVID-19’s sucker punch to the hospitality industry.
The city has already agreed to spend more than $1.2 million to relaunch the Resort Management Office to help address issues in the resort. “Ambassadors,” meant to help create a more “welcoming atmosphere,” started Thursday.
But it’s an increase in the police presence at the resort many have asked for. A Herculean request considering Police Chief Paul Neudigate recently told City Council the department is roughly 100 officers short.
So the commission is pushing for city council to invest in tools such as licenses for license plate recognition software, ShotSpotter — a sensor system already being used in Newport News to detect the sound of gunfire and use GPS technology to pinpoint its origin — and improved lighting along side streets and more stadium lighting in certain areas of Atlantic Avenue after 11 p.m.
Roughly $300,000 is already included in City Manager Patrick Duhaney’s proposed 2021-22 budget to expand the Oceanfront camera system.
He has also proposed that Neudigate form a Resort Liaison Squad.
The squad would look to address the causes of crime in the Oceanfront area and focus on best identifying the locations that facilitate crimes.
“The big thing we need to figure out, is who is coming to visit our resort area and how can we structure around them?” Neudigate said. “We need to be very careful because we don’t want to be seen as oppressive and discouraging people from coming to the Oceanfront.”
Baumann said despite all that has occurred, she remains hopeful.
“We are doing everything and anything that we can to ensure that we got a great welcoming, safe fun environment for our visitors to come to and our residents.”