NORFOLK, Va. — In an especially violent year for Hampton Roads, more than 200 people were killed in homicides in 2021 across the seven cities.
Most cities reported a spike in homicides for a second straight year. Notably, domestic or residential homicides increased sharply in several cities.
In talking about the surge of violent crime, some police chiefs pointed to the usage and sale of illegal guns.
"If we’re going to change this narrative, we have to focus on those illegal guns and straw purchasing is truly the key," said Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone, a long-time advocate of using law enforcement partnerships to crack down on illegal firearms.
Chief Boone said agencies need to use a "full-court press" to combat the illegal exchange of guns.
"When we recover guns used in a crime, 9 times out of 10 they’re illegal, and if you don’t have them, those things that we’re talking about right now can’t happen," Boone said. "We had 7 or 8 incidents where there were multiple victims, and a lot of that is due to the nature of the guns out here on the street."
The Norfolk Police Department (NPD) reported 61 homicides in 2021, the highest count of any city in the region. NPD reported 50 and 37 homicides in 2020 and 2019, respectively.
The Hampton Police Division reported the highest number of homicides in the city in decades with 33 people killed, including homicides that were deemed justified.
Hampton Police Chief Mark Talbot pointed to COVID-19 pandemic effects as contributing factors to rising homicide rates.
“The pandemic allowing much of the criminal justice system to go on pause, the social sector not operating at maximum efficiency, the increased amount of adversity a lot of people are feeling, especially the most vulnerable, all of those things are coming together to create a perfect storm that’s leading to this," Chief Talbot said.
Talbot said his department needs to focus on the people who are "driving a disproportionate amount of violence in city hotspots," but he said there’s more to the problem than that.
"When you have parts of the community where we’ve delegated poverty and deprivation and suffering, you’re going to see violence," Talbot said. "So if we think that we can rely exclusively on policing to turn around this dynamic, we will be wrong as we’ve been numerous times in the history of this country."
Boone, Talbot and Chesapeake Police Chief Kelvin Wright all stressed community discussions and behavioral change to help curb the concerning trend of increased homicides.
In Norfolk and Chesapeake, a third of all homicides in 2021 were residential or domestic, an increase that police leaders in both cities called highly concerning.
“We had 24 cases, eight of them were domestic-related," Wright said. "So that’s part of the problem. Help us get the word out about the great harm that can occur as a result of domestic violence."
Norfolk Police classified 21 out of 61 homicides as "residence," with the other 40 classified as "street."
Portsmouth Police reported 36 homicide deaths in 2021 -- the second-highest of any city in the area.
Newport News Police reported 31 homicides in 2021, while Suffolk reported 6.
Virginia Beach was the only city of the seven cities to report a decrease in homicides from 2020 to 2021. The region's largest city reported 14 homicides in 2021, compared to 17 in 2020.
Homicide clearance rates, the percentage of investigations that are "cleared" by an arrest, charge, or exception rates, vary between 48 percent and 66 percent among the seven cities.
Many homicide cases are still under investigation and clearance rates may be updated by each police department.
In total, 203 people were killed in Hampton Roads homicides in 2021, including a small number of homicides deemed by prosecutors to be justified.
Hampton's homicide count more than doubled since before the pandemic, while Chesapeake's has more than tripled.
Here's a look at homicide death totals:
- Norfolk - 61 in 2021, 50 in 2020, 37 in 2019
- Portsmouth - 36 in 2021, 34 in 2020, 18 in 2019
- Hampton - 33 in 2021, 23 in 2020, 15 in 2019
- Newport News - 31 in 2021, 25 in 2020, 25 in 2019
- Chesapeake - 25 in 2021, 16 in 2020, 7 in 2019
- Virginia Beach - 14 in 2021, 17 in 2020, 30 in 2019
- Suffolk - 6 in 2021, 3 in 2020, 6 in 2019
Here's a look at homicide clearance rates in 2021:
- Norfolk - 59%
- Portsmouth - 48.6%
- Hampton - 51.5%
- Newport News - 64.5% on homicides occurring in 2021, 71% including cleared homicides from past years
- Chesapeake - 60%
- Suffolk - 67%, one homicide case has warrants on file but not arrested
Virginia Beach Police Department did not reply to an inquiry to confirm 2021 homicide totals on Monday. The above count is based on tracking done by 13News Now. A confirmed count and clearance rate will be added when received.