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'Urgent call to arms' | Portsmouth's interim police chief discusses new crime-fighting initiatives

So far this year, Portsmouth has had 24 homicides. Also, the department is still down 85 sworn positions.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Wednesday night, Interim Police Chief Stephen Jenkins announced new ways the Portsmouth Police Dept. is trying to get a grip on violent crime.

"It is a total urgent call to arms," he told the crowd of about 20.

So far this year, Portsmouth has had 24 homicides.

"Every single one of those homicides are not attributed to gang violence," Jenkins said.

He said some of the homicides are domestic or between friends. Others, they consider justified self-defense.

The Interim Chief also told the crowd, so far in 2022, 207 guns have been stolen. Out of those, 107 were left in unlocked cars.

RELATED: Norfolk police recovered 920 guns in 2020 - only 52 ever reported stolen

Jenkins unveiled numerous new initiatives he hopes will hope get the community more involved. One is called “Rock the Block.”

"It is reclaiming our community one block at a time," he said.

The goal is to go into neighborhoods plagued with crime with a city-wide holistic approach, with parks and recreation, behavioral health, etc.

They’re also looking at implementing ShotSpotter or a similar technology called Raven. They hope to pick one by the fall.

RELATED: 'Disrupting the shooting cycle' | New technology helps VBPD seize guns at Oceanfront

Jenkins said the department is working on multiple ways to get more cameras in the community.

Starting next month, the department will pass out free doorbell cameras, called Blink, with a one year membership included. On top of that, they want residents and businesses to register their cameras, so investigators can use them for evidence if a crime happens in their area.

Portsmouth police are also working to launch a Real Time Crime Center to serve as an information hub.

The department wants to install school zone speed cameras. Those would have the ability to capture license plates, the type of car a suspect is driving and which direction they went after leaving a scene.

To those who are worried about privacy, Jenkins had this to say: "Freedom is not free."

The list of new initiatives goes on.

The department wants to resurrect neighborhood watch programs through civic leagues across the city. Jenkins said their objective is to be a great witness and a deterrent, not to intervene during a crime.

They are also planning to launch a Citizen’s Online Police Reporting System by the end of the year. If an offender is not on scene, or if someone is trying to report an abandoned vehicle, a barking dog, lost property, you should use the new portal. Jenkins said it helps allocate resources to violent crimes.

In terms of grant funding, GREAT, or Gang Resistance Education and Training, will head to middle schools in the city to educate and deter gang participation.

A nine week program in Portsmouth High Schools called RESPECT, or Refocusing Education with Students and Police Enlisting Courts and Training, will begin in the fall. That program will focus on intervention strategies that can dissuade high schoolers from joining gangs and help them discontinue their involvement in gangs. 

The third grant program is GVIP, or Gun Violence Intervention Program. According to Jenkins, it is modeled after Project Safe Neighborhood. It involves violence interrupters, intake workers, collaborative efforts by the city, state, federal partners and community activists. The goal is to empower the community to take back their neighborhoods.

Jenkins acknowledged staffing is a problem on every front, so he said he is open to bringing qualified volunteers in where he can.

Currently, the Portsmouth Police Dept. has 85 sworn vacancies and 30 civilian vacancies.

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