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Portsmouth vice mayor calls for policy changes in youth programs following recent shootings

A 17-year-old boy was shot and killed in Portsmouth, marking the eighth teenage victim of gun violence in 2021.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Portsmouth city leaders say they are at a tipping point after police found a 17-year-old boy shot and killed along Elm Avenue late on September 30.

Vice Mayor De'Andre Barnes says it's a continuous cycle he noticed among younger people over the last few years, but now the problem is only getting worse. 

Barnes says he is no stranger to this violence after losing his own 12-year-old cousin to it in 2018.

"He got shot by another young man that was 13 at the time. So, just like the rest of the public...I'm numb to it," said Barnes. "It's not safe for anybody's kids." 

A big question police and other leaders are asking is, why are younger people feeling the need to get a gun? Barnes says he feels it's because children in the area no longer feel safe...and want to protect themselves.

"When a crime happens, when that young man was shot and killed last night [Thursday], the problem didn't start that day," said Barnes. "The problem started when he chose that lifestyle." 

Our 13News Now reports show about eight teenagers in Portsmouth have become victims of gun violence in 2021. 

This rate is higher than surrounding cities in Hampton Roads.

He says despite the city's "Stand Against Crime" initiative, he wants policies to speak louder than words and to break the cycle of teen violence.

"I put on the table about using our funds to put $3 million into the organizations in Portsmouth that deal directly with our youth."

However, he says funding won't solve the problem completely. Barnes says he wants these programs to communicate more to parents about what is happening in their children's lives.

"It's called violence interruption," Barnes explained. "If you can invest into this organization, so they can then give information to parents that can help them out and help their kids out, then you can turn around what we have now as far as crime in this city."

Barnes says the younger people don't have to be the victims, but more the solution to this problem.

'Stand Against Crime' is the latest initiative from the City of Portsmouth. The Mayor and Chief of Police say they plan to use grant money to help connect to younger people in the community.

Portsmouth Police Chief Renado Prince sent this statement to 13News Now:

"We are still moving forward with the plans that we have in place concerning gun violence reduction. As I said early in, this is a process, and it takes time with the community working together with us. We are already starting to see an increase in citizens reaching out to us with information about gun violence."