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Newport News Police Chief: Violent crime on the rise, illegal gun seizures down

Police Chief Steve Drew said a new law involving marijuana may have affected how many illegal weapons officers seized last year.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — 2021 was a violent year for Newport News. 

Police chief Steve Drew released the latest crime stats Friday morning, showing murder, robbery and aggravated assault had all increased.

“I would love to be standing here and telling you we had decreases across the board – that’s just not the case, this year," Drew said. "We got hit.”

Gun violence remains a big concern; There were 93 shootings last year and 30 homicides.

Drew said most of the deaths were from domestic violence and arguments, and most of the time, the victims and suspect knew each other.

He called on the community to speak up when they know there’s a problem brewing.

“When there are signs of early domestic violence – I’m not just talking about the suspect or the victim, I’m talking about the neighbor across the way or that lives in the upstairs apartment or that sees it in the parking lot – that they make a phone call, that they get involved; That they don’t let those things escalate," Drew said.

“Don’t wait until something tragic happens. You’re not telling on anybody, it’s not snitching, it’s about getting involved. Those type of things matter to me.”

RELATED: More than 200 homicides reported in Hampton Roads in 2021

There was a drop in the number of illegal guns taken off the streets.

Drew said officers used to recover a lot of guns from traffic stops when police were allowed to stop and search people based solely on whether officers smelled marijuana.

“We’re not searching the vehicles like we used to,” Drew said. “I’m not saying people who smoke marijuana are criminals, I’m not saying people who smoke marijuana are violent – because I’ll get 20 emails – I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that sometimes when people go from place to place, they transport firearms. And when you’re allowed to search something and you recover something, then there it is.”

Even with the drop, officers still recovered 836 weapons in 2021.

“That ain’t no buyback program – we ain’t paying for those guns that are coming off the street," Drew said.

"I am concerned about the number of firearms in our community. I am concerned about the number of firearms in the hands of people who have no business having them.”

RELATED: 'Save our children': Newport News community marches against violence days after shooting at Menchville High

Drew also voiced concern about crime among teenagers and pointed to ongoing staffing issues that have been stretching resources.

In September, there was a shooting inside Heritage High School. A student opened fire and hit two other students. Both survived.

In December, a student at Warwick High School shot and killed another student after a basketball game at Menchville High School.  

“It bothers me. What we saw at two of our high schools [last] year, bothers me," Drew said.

"Basketball games are a little more challenging because there are so many on different days and even the same day. So if there’s three high school basketball games, I become a little strapped with resources if I want to send four, five officers to each game.”

The chief also outlined goals for 2022. A big one is reducing gun violence.

Drew said he plans to increase the number of police officers on the force and add a second ShotSpotter in the northern part of the city. ShotSpotter is technology that identifies whether someone fired a gun in the area.

Drew also wants to create a “tip line” for youth to speak with School Resource Officers.

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