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AG Miyares meets with Portsmouth leaders to share ideas on how to curb violent crime

The attorney general, police chief and sheriff said community policing, officer retention and a whole-hearted effort from the community play major roles.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Thursday night, three branches of law enforcement came together to figure out a way forward in Portsmouth.

More than 100 people have already been shot in the city this year, and the new interim police chief said something’s got to give.

Community policing, officer retention and a whole-hearted effort from the community: That’s what Attorney General Jason Miyares, Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore and Portsmouth’s new Interim Police Chief Stephen Jenkins said will help curb the growing violence in the city.

"Everyone has to get involved," Jenkins said.

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More than 100 concerned citizens came together to hear what the three leaders had to say.

Portsmouth, the smallest of the seven cities, has one of the highest homicide rates in the area. Jenkins said some of the problem stems from 18% of the population living below the poverty line and 23% of the population being younger than 18.

"It is difficult to address juveniles because of... we really want to give them a chance to reform," Jenkins said.

Miyares said everyone in this country has been through an immense amount of trauma in the last two years, which has only made the problem worse. 

"Too many young people seeking money, power and respect in all the wrong areas," Miyares said.

He said community policing and trust-building tactics are vital. Moore agreed and emphasizes the need to get ahead of the crimes before they happen.

"We have to make the efforts to get into the communities," he said.

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Jenkins said another piece of the puzzle is addressing some of the root causes, like mental health and poverty.

"There are lots of issues we’ve turned a blind eye to," Jenkins said.

13News Now asked Interim Chief Jenkins how much of a role gangs play in the violence. After a string of shootings last month, rumors were swirling on social media that a gang war had broken out.

"We have to be very careful with how we label an individual. Just because you have a group of individuals that were hanging together and doing certain things, that does not necessarily mean they're a gang, but that is an easy term to throw out," he said.

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However, he acknowledged that the city does deal with gang issues, whether they are local to Portsmouth or spilling over the border from other cities.

"Everything that happens, every shooting that happens is not gang-related. You know, there is such thing as he did something to me and I have an issue with him," he said.

Virginia lawmakers recently passed a law that makes it illegal for police to stop or search a vehicle because they smell marijuana, have a broken brake light, defective equipment, etc.

The goal was to reduce racial profiling, but Miyares and Jenkins said it had unintended consequences. Now, they said it's harder for police to find illegal guns or drugs in vehicles.

"Good intentions don't always lead to good results," said Miyares.

Jenkins said they're having to adapt methods to get guns and drugs off the street.

The attorney general also said officer morale is very low across the board. Moore said a lot of that comes from community perception and low pay. He said a lot of his deputies left Portsmouth, which pays $34,000 a year, for Chesapeake, where they're paid $50,000.

He said local government needs to take a look at what it takes to not only recruit good people, but also retain them. Retaining them will lead to more trust in the community.

"If you adequately fund these agencies, you will see a lot of progress in what they're able to accomplish," said Jenkins.

Miyares said another key component is keeping repeat offenders off the street. He said he's all for second chances and reform, but there is a line when it comes to someone with a lengthy rap sheet of violent crimes.

Miyares, Jenkins and Moore all agree on two fundamental things: law enforcement can’t fix the problem by themselves and neighbors need to look out for each other again.

Overall, they said the ideas shared tonight need to live on past the forum. 

If you'd like to watch the entire forum, you can watch it on Facebook.

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