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Down more than 100 officers, Virginia Beach Police embrace technology to help fight crime

As cities across the nation and in Hampton Roads grapple with surging violence this summer, Virginia Beach is bucking the trend.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — As cities across the nation and in Hampton Roads grapple with surging violence this summer, Virginia Beach is bucking the trend.

Violent crime in the city is down this year despite the March shootings at the Oceanfront.

13News Now investigates if technology is possibly making the city safer.

Police patrolling the Virginia Beach Oceanfront now have a bird’s eye view of crime as it happens.

Capt. Harry McBrien of the Virginia Beach Police Department's Second Precinct demonstrated how some of their cameras work.

“So right here, a pan-tilt zoom camera that can go 360 and zoom in on areas,” McBrien explained.

These new cameras put more eyes on busy areas like on Atlantic Avenue, where the police department recently invested in a brand new substation.

McBrien said the technology comes at an important time, as the department is understaffed by more than 100 police officers.

“The technology that we use is absolutely a force multiplier for us that can cover some of the gaps for us when we don’t have enough officers, so that helps us out," McBrien said.

13News Now wanted to know if a camera could ever replace the physical presence of an officer. McBrien was sure in his answer.

“No absolutely not, and that’s why you have to have a layered approach to it,” he said.

That layered approach has helped officers find and confiscate dozens of illegal weapons so far this summer at the Oceanfront.

RELATED: Gunshot detector installed at Oceanfront | Virginia Beach police hope to reduce gun violence

McBrien estimated they've seized at least 75 guns in the past two months at the Oceanfront. 

Over the Independence Day weekend, officers confiscated a gun with an extended magazine capable of firing off 50 rounds.

“Why would you have a handgun with a 50 round drum magazine attached to it?” McBrien asked. "Is that for personal protection or is that to create havoc? And that’s what we’re finding."

They’re also finding that, in many cases, these guns are stolen from vehicles. That happened 247 times last year in Virginia Beach. 

The police department even issued a video PSA this summer reminding all gun owners to "be gun responsible." That means securing your firearms against theft, and reporting to police if they go missing.

"When everyone’s sleeping, and we have a group of individuals literally canvassing neighborhoods to see what cars are unlocked, it’s easy access, and they’re finding guns in cars," said Deputy Chief Sean Adams. "And those guns are being used and sold illegally on the street, and they’re being used in a lot of these crimes."

Violent crime was down 18% in Virginia Beach for the first half of 2021 when compared to the previous three years. 

The Oceanfront is located in the city's 2nd Precinct, where violent crime is down 71% over the last month (when compared to this time last year). 

To help crack down on shootings, in mid-July, the Virginia Beach Police Department launched its new “ShotSpotter” technology at the Oceanfront. It’s designed to dispatch police to the exact location of gunfire the second it happens.

The department recognizes that the new technology has its limits. 

McBrien said the cameras and ShotSpotter can help solve, but not necessarily prevent, violent crime.

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