Special Report: Portsmouth councilman’s solution for rising crime

WAVY News 10

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) —  10 On Your Side has been covering the rising homicide rate in Portsmouth, which has more than doubled in the past year.

According to City-Data.com Portsmouth is considered the most dangerous city in Hampton Roads.

Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright has been blasted for only addressing the problem after citizens called him out for failing to address the issue, and for failing to meet with local media about it.

City Councilman Danny Meeks did agree to not only meet with 10 On Your Side, but came prepared with a plan to solve the problem of crime in Portsmouth. His plan has to do with how the Portsmouth Police Department is organized.

Councilman Meeks has been here for each of the 27 homicides in Portsmouth in 2015, which is an increase of 145 percent over the 11 homicides in 2014.  “When I grew up, the police walked the streets,” Meeks recalled.

Meeks grew up in the Bide-A-Wee neighborhood, went to the old Cradock High School, and now operates Empire Recycling which is a scrap metal business located in Prentiss Place.  It is a tough neighborhood, but this is where Meeks has chosen to put his business.

“These people out here are crying in this community like every community. They want more police protection, and quality of life, and they are paying their taxes just like everyone, and they aren’t getting it.”

He is frustrated by what he says is an absence of police presence in the community. “We’ve been here for 15 to 20 minutes (as we stood outside his business), and we haven’t seen an officer at all.”  Meeks says he wants to change the way Portsmouth Police do business. “We need more police presence, and more police oversight,” he said.

This is Meeks’ plan to increase police presence and establish better relations among the community and police. There are 31 voting precincts in Portsmouth that cover 31 square miles.  He wants police on regular beats assigned to cover the area of each voting precinct. He wants to break down the city into more manageable areas.  Meeks says this will create more visibility, quicker response times to reported crimes, and build better relations with police.  “The residents will want to communicate, and will let you know who’s the problem and how it started, so by having these officers in the precinct there is a familiarity. It becomes a little bit more friendly.”

Meeks thinks this election precinct plan would create ownership with citizens and police, “If an officer needs back up, back up is in the next precinct over. You will have three officers there in minutes.”

Interim Police Chief Dennis Mook would not comment or be interviewed on Meeks’ plan.  He reportedly had no interest in discussing it.

Meeks has not mentioned his plan to Chief Mook, but he says he did mention it to City Manager Dr. Lydia Patton, “Me and the manager during her interview process.  Dr. Patton, we had a dialog, probably a good five to ten minutes about… (I told her we needed) more oversight in the police with these communities.”   10 On Your Side contacted Dr. Patton and she said she would get back with us, but never did.  Meeks claims nothing ever came of that conversation, but thinks current police staffing strategies are not working.  Meeks also said it’s a matter of reorganizing existing staff.

Community activist Barry Randall said in December, “The truth is we have a mayor that is out of touch with the reality of his city.”  Meeks says he hears residents speaking out about city leadership, the silence from some leaders, and them failing to address the spike in homicides.  We asked Meeks about the mayor’s strategy not to talk to the media about this important issue. Meeks said, “Kenny is his own person.  I cannot control what Kenny does. You got to get out in front of the story. It has become an issue, but Kenny is his own man, and  his own destiny is in his own control.”

At his news conference on December 31 in response to criticism, Mayor Wright stood in front of elected leaders and leaders from the community.  The Mayor spoke about a new initiative ‘Violence and Crime Reversal through Community Engagement Campaign.’  Mayor Wright said, “The time for talk is past due.  It is time for action. There are no simple solutions to the violence and the crime that continues to plague our communities throughout our city.” Critics blast Mayor Wright for failing to offer any solutions at that news conference.

Councilman Meeks says his plan of staffing police inside voting precincts is the best place to organize the police response to issues in the community, “We have to get a plan, and stick to it.  People here pay their taxes for a quality of life and they aren’t getting it, and they deserve to have quality of life, and that is public safety.”

City Manager Dr. Lydia Patton, Interim Police Chief Dennis Mook, and Mayor Kenny Wright all refused to participate in this report.

Councilman Meeks did offer this positive view as we ended our interview, “The employees and the Portsmouth team, we are really trying to push the city forward.  Don’t give up on us, we will get there.”


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