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Norfolk partners with New Jersey-based group to address violent crime

The city is partnering with an outreach program called Newark Community Street Team.

NORFOLK, Va. — There has been a recent uptick in violence across Hampton Roads and cities in the area are taking measures to help prevent any more disruptions.

On Tuesday, Norfolk's City Manager, Dr. Larry Filer, announced that the city is partnering with a New Jersey-based outreach program to address the recent violence.

The program, called Newark Community Street Team, is a group made up of mentors and outreach workers including former criminals who have served jail time. 

The group will work with Norfolk's faith-based organizations, civic leagues, and the police to find new ways to prevent crime in the area. 

According to the organization's website, Newark Community Street Team uses a public health approach to reduce violent crimes. 

"We've put a lot of pressure on our cops and to be everything and all things -- coaches, counselors, therapists -- and it's unfair so we like to think of our work as pulling public safety out of the abstract and creating a comprehensive approach," said Newark Community Street Team's board chair, Aqeela Sherrills.

Sherrills is also the co-founder of the Community Based Public Safety Collective. 

“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem. And an arrest doesn’t always end the conflict in the community," Sherrills said.

“It requires a tremendous amount of maintenance work, there’s a pretty high threshold in terms of arrests and prosecution. So you have to have residents, non traditional leaders in community, who can actually intervene, prevent, and treat violence as a public health issue in respect to communities.”

Sherrills explained – his group has worked from scratch to introduce intervention programs, outreach workers, and victims advocates. In Newark, they also launched the first hospital-based violence intervention program. 

“When we started this work, Newark had about 103 murder in the city, was on the top ten most violent list for almost 50 consecutive years, as we’ve now had six consecutive years in a row  of decreases in homicides and overall violence," Sherrills said. 

“Traditionally in the country, you say ‘public safety’ and people say, ‘police.’ The reality is police are only one aspect of an ecosystem of services that keep neighborhoods safe.” 

Once the ball gets rolling on the new partnership, city leaders said they will follow up and decide which groups will work with the team, and see what the partnership is going to look like for the next 6-8 weeks. 

“We essentially hire and train residents in neighborhoods at public safety professionals," Sherrills said.

“We like to think of the idea of pulling public safety out of the abstract and put it in the hands of the public – so public safety in public hands.”

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