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New Portsmouth city manager, interim police chief, speak about their hiring and agenda moving forward

Community members had been asking questions about Tonya Chapman's plans to lead the city, and her decision to fire former Police Chief Renado Prince.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Portsmouth's new city manager Tonya Chapman, alongside Interim Police Chief Stephen Jenkins, met with reporters publicly on Thursday for the first time since her appointment.

In an hour-long joint press conference, the pair shared ideas to move the city forward. This comes after weeks of tension among city council and in the community surrounding Chapman’s hiring. 

Chapman said she wants the City of Portsmouth to give her the opportunity to show what she can do. She also wanted to set the record straight on her qualifications in what she’s calling "vicious attacks" on her character.

RELATED: New city manager faces Portsmouth citizens for the first time during council meeting

“All I ask is an opportunity, and may the work I do – speak for me," said Chapman.

As city manager, Chapman told reporters she hopes to reduce crime, improve economic development, social equity and provide opportunities for unity in the city. 

Chapman's ideas includes an initiative called 'R.O.C.', or Reclaiming Our Community, which concentrates on select, high crime neighborhoods for 30 day periods. During the timespan, several city departments and agencies will focus on community engagement and providing resources into the specific area. 

"It will be an all hands on deck approach," she said. 

Chapman also addressed concerns and criticism surrounding her appointment. 

As for Chapman’s qualifications for the role, she pointed to her time as Portsmouth police chief from 2016 to 2019. Under her leadership, Chapman claimed crime rates in Portsmouth declined; the police department diversified, including an increase of women and minorities on staff by 10 percent; and she cited the creation of community-based programs implemented by the police department. 

In 2016, Chapman became the first Black woman to serve as police chief in Virginia’s history. However, in 2019, she claimed city leaders forced her to resign and said she witnessed systemic racism. Governor Ralph Northam later appointed Chapman to chair the Virginia Parole Board. Chapman listed several other roles at the state level. 

RELATED: Former Portsmouth Police chief claims she was forced to resign

Chapman also referenced her educational qualifications, including ongoing efforts to complete a PhD in Public Administration and Policy. Chapman claimed she’s completed all requirements for the degree, except for the dissertation, which she is currently writing. Chapman said she holds a Master’s in Business Administration and a Master’s in Public Administration from Virginia Tech. 

“As you can see through my education and experience, my qualifications meet or exceed that of any other city manager,” she said Thursday. 

Chapman said she applied for the City Manager role in 2021, and she interviewed with the consulting firm hired by city leaders to help conduct the search. However, she said she withdrew her name and was later informed by the firm that she was selected to proceed in the hiring process. She claims ‘another source’ told her several council members at the time supported her moving forward to the next step. 

“After giving it some thought, I decided to re-engage, and then I was told it was too late,” she said. 

City council leaders ultimately decided to appoint Angel Jones in March 2021. 

Chapman acknowledged several rumors she said have been circulating in the community, and  she said she wanted to “set the record straight.” 

“Contrary to what some have stated, I was not provided a list of individuals to fire or a so-called ‘hit list.’ Nor have I been given anyone’s agenda,” said Chapman. 

City council leaders voted 4-3 to hire Chapman after firing former city manager Jones with the same 4-3 vote. The move sparked tension among city council leaders and in the community. The fallout included a handful of allegations among city leaders, ongoing recall efforts and Mayor Shannon Glover's attempt to file criminal charges on fellow council members.

RELATED: Group of Portsmouth citizens calls for recall of De'Andre Barnes, Mark Whitaker

Chapman said she will work with all city council members and asked the community to let her work speak for her.

"I understand there was tension around my appointment. But I’m hoping to get the opportunity to bring people together," she told reporters.

When asked how she plans to do that, Chapman said she’s already met with each of the city council members one-on-one and is working on other ideas to build unity and trust. 

“As the leader of this city, all I ask is for the opportunity to do the job that is before me, and let’s work together to achieve measurable results,” Chapman said.

In Chapman's first week on the job, she fired ex-police chief Renado Prince, who told 13NewsNow his termination stemmed over a text message he sent to an employee critical of his new boss. 

RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Ousted Portsmouth Police Chief Renado Prince says firing stemmed from text message

Chapman, who hired Prince when she served as police chief, said she would not discuss personnel matters. 

She named Jenkins, a 20-year veteran of the department, as the interim. 

“As a department and as a city, we are going to work on creating opportunities because hope sometimes takes too long,” said Jenkins. “And that’s what we’ve been doing, hoping.” 

The pair take their roles as violent crime in Portsmouth is on the rise, an issue facing other Hampton Roads communities, also.  

Jenkins says crime reduction, public safety, hiring and staff retention and the use of technology will be focuses in the police department.

“In a time when police officers are at a premium, technology has to be embraced to help us put ourselves in the best position to be successful," said Jenkins, who mentioned ShotSpotter and license place readers as possibilities for the city. 

RELATED: 13News Now Investigates: Hampton Roads police departments turn to gunshot detection technology, but is it effective?

Both Chapman and Jenkins stressed community participation as a big part of the solution.

"All it takes for evil to prevail is for a good man to do nothing," said Jenkins, stressing the importance of people speaking up and communicating with police. 

Jenkins said the department plans to create a database where citizens can voluntarily upload home surveillance videos to help solve crimes.

Prince became the third police chief in as many years to part ways with the department, and he recently told 13NewsNow the police department needed 'stability' at the leadership level. Jenkins said he did not have any concerns about his job security on Thursday. 

When asked about the potential hiring of Jenkins as the city's next police chief, Chapman mentioned an ongoing search but said she is pleased with Jenkins so far and hopes he can get the role. 

While some question Chapman’s appointment, there are others who fully support her, including members of the Portsmouth Police Department.

A group of local law enforcement, mostly Black Americans, told 13NewsNow there are several people in the department who are ready to work under Chapman’s leadership.

David Long has worked with the department for over 20 years – and he says Chapman worked to change the culture for minorities during her tenure as police chief. 

"In my opinion, we embrace her. We welcome her. We are ready to do our job. All she needs to do is tell us where we are headed, steer the right direction and we’re good to go,” Long told 13NewsNow.  

In a recent interview with 13NewsNow, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents a portion of members in the department, described Chapman's previous tenure as 'stressful' for several officers, who did not agree with her vision for the force. However, he said the group is willing to work with her.  

RELATED: Portsmouth FOP president opens up on hire of former Police Chief Tonya Chapman as city manager

Long, who is not represented by the FOP, described Chapman's time as chief as “positive,” highlighting her push to diversify the police department and its leadership for people of color and women. 


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