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Newly sworn-in Portsmouth Police Chief lays out vision for department, city

Stephen Jenkins takes the helm as chief during a critical time in Portsmouth, as it grapples with a rise in gun violence and instability among city leadership.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Stephen Jenkins was officially sworn in as Portsmouth's police chief Tuesday night. 

Ahead of the ceremony and following his appointment, Jenkins spoke with 13News Now for a wide-ranging conversation. 

"I never dreamed that I would be in this position, and here I am today," said Jenkins. 

A 20-year veteran of the Portsmouth Police Department, the Hampton Roads native rose through the ranks. And one could argue he has stood the test of turnover among city management. 

"If I allowed it to affect me, I would not be effective in this job," said Jenkins. 

After the firing of Police Chief Renado Prince in the summer of 2022, then-City Manager Tonya Chapman appointed Jenkins in the role of interim police chief. 

After council's decision to terminate Chapman, former Deputy City Manager Mimi Terry took over the role of city manager on an interim basis. Terry, last week, promoted Jenkins. 

"I pride myself on being a servant leader," Jenkins said when asked what chief he wants to be for both his rank and file, as well as the community. "To engage people, to build trust and build relationships"

Chief Jenkins' leadership comes at a critical time for the city.

"The loss of life, the fact that there is zero conflict resolution, there is very little regard for individuals' lives has to be put to the forefront," he said. "Nobody should lose their life because of a misunderstanding."

Portsmouth saw a violent last year with a record amount of homicides in the span of one year. 42 people were killed in Portsmouth in 2022, according to FBI data. And since Christmas, at least six people have died in shootings.

"I feel like a lot of residents are starting to be in fear of their lives, so I feel like the violence really needs to be addressed," said resident Troy Mitchell, who is also with a nonprofit called The Associates The Organization, seeking to offer local youth opportunities and assist those experiencing homelessness. 

Fellow resident and Portsmouth native Michael Green, also with The Associates The Organization, shared similar concerns about violence.

"Hopefully, he'll take care of that or at least address it to try to deter a lot of it and provide a lot of security for the youth and for the elderly," Green said. 

Along with boosting patrols, Jenkins looks to upgrade technology. Work is underway to install software called Fusus, which will streamline surveillance camera feeds from across the city. It will be part of a Real Time Crime Center coming soon. 

Another example of forthcoming technology is a system called Flock Safety, which will add license plate readers and more cameras across the city. The chief said we can expect that implemented in the next 60 to 90 days.

Moreover, Jenkins looks forward to eventually securing a gunshot detection system. 

"All of that together will give us better crime-fighting capabilities with responding to gunshots fired, having cameras, license plate readers. And again, this is no secret," said Jenkins. "We want folks to know we have this technology because we want people to know, if you commit a crime in Portsmouth, we're going to catch you."

Jenkins also said he worries about guns that end up in the wrong hands, especially minors. To fend off teen violence, Jenkins believes parents and the community play a key role.

"We have to let them know that we care about them and that we are actively engaged in their life," Jenkins added. 

While the new chief pledges to work with citizens, he hopes they will help the police, too.

"We're just trying to get people to engage within their houses, within their neighborhoods," said Jenkins. "Again, the term: seeing something, saying something. Caring about one another more, and understanding that gun violence affects us all."

Working together was a goal that residents, such as Green and Mitchell, expressed full support for, as a new top cop takes the helm. 

Jenkins additionally said “don't be surprised,” if you see him out on patrol as well.

Despite a staffing shortage, the chief praised members of his force for stepping up and filling the gaps. 

Like many departments across the U.S., Portsmouth is looking to fill its ranks. Jenkins said they are down by about 80 officers. 

"But we need more people to come back to law enforcement. We need those boots on the ground, those hometown heroes."

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