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Portsmouth Police Chief gives update on violent crime after 16 homicides in 2023

He says even while still down 88 sworn positions, his department is implementing technological solutions to make up for the lack of manpower.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Portsmouth is still working to battle violent crime.

During a special-called city council meeting on Monday night, Chief Stephen Jenkins laid out the problems facing the city of Portsmouth in terms of violent crime.

He said even while still down 88 sworn positions, his department is implementing technological solutions to make up for the lack of manpower.

Let’s start with the statistics.

Last year, he said 42 people were killed in the city and just since the beginning of 2023, 16 people have been shot and killed.

"What we see here today is a response to many and many years of not only neglect, poor policies, poverty, poor schools and by design," he said. "We are going to struggle with getting out of this."

In 2022, he said violent crime rose 16%, however, he said homicide clearance rates are currently high. Portsmouth investigators are clearing homicides at a rate of 71.4%, which is above the national average of 61.4%. 

"We’re trying to establish ourselves more today as guardians rather than warriors," Jenkins told council.

He said of the 16 homicides, at least half were the result of an argument, despite rumors otherwise.

"There is this misconception that we have this gang war and that everything is associated with gang violence."

He said that even if the department is fully staffed, anticipating arguments that turn into shootings is hard to prevent.

Jenkins also said last year, 198 firearms were stolen from cars, 144 of those came from cars that were unlocked. As part of the answer, he said they’re constantly upping their technology.

"We are committed as a team to addressing our issues head-on," he said.

Jenkins touched on upgrades like the new license plate readers, gunshot detection systems, a real-time crime center, and upgrades to body cameras, tasers, patrol cars, and holsters.

One thing Jenkins said would help the department overall is actually having a department that’s not spread all over the city.

"I’m not talking about retrofitting a 60 or 70-year-old building to try to make it work for something today. I’m talking about a brand new structure that will allow us to put our apparatuses, our patrol cars, our fitness facilities, our training facilities," he said. "We will start to retain and attract people to be able to say 'Portsmouth is now starting to do something and I want to go be a part of that.'"

In the end, every council member offered to help however they can and thanked Jenkins for his dedication.

"I appreciate your commitment and I want to offer you and your police department encouragement," said Mayor Shannon Glover.

Jenkins also pleaded with the community to stop taking to social media when they’re frustrated with the department. He said it’s hard enough to find and retain officers and that just makes it worse. Jenkins urged everyone to call him and said they will be heard. 

He also touched on his officers struggling with mental health. The sheer volume of calls and the graphic nature of what they’re responding to can get to them.

So, Jenkins said they’re working to implement peer counselors and they just put in a gym for the officers.

The chief also stressed they are working on nationwide recruitment efforts. Although they are down almost 90 sworn positions, he said they have 17 people in the pipeline. 

To encourage even more people, he said they're offering a $1,000 referral bonus to people within the department and a $500 bonus to any citizen or employee that refers an officer that is hired.

To watch the update in its entirety, click here.

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