PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Community and faith leaders gathered Tuesday with their neighbors in Olde Towne to discuss what they call documented cases of police brutality in America and ways Portsmouth officers can better engage the public before any such violence occurs.
The third “Chat and Chew” event, hosted by mayoral candidate Pastor Barry Randal, focused on strengthening the relationship between police officers and the people they serve.
“One of the things that is no secret to the citizens of Portsmouth is that we lack leadership,” said Randall. “I think for the most part, the citizens at large want unity. They want to be one community.”
A panel of community leaders, including Vice-Mayor Elizabeth Psimas, weighed in on issues such as the police department investigating their own officer-involved shooting incidents and the public’s lack of access to body camera video.
“We pay for the equipment they use to record, so I don’t see what the big deal is or even why they have a say in why we get the video,” said one panelist.
The group also talked about the importance of officers learning the names of the neighbors they interact with everyday.
“So, if you see ‘Christopher’ out at 1 a.m., and you’ve met him the night before you can say, ‘Christopher, you need to go back home’ … ‘Christopher’ will know you. You’ll know ‘Christopher’ and it will be a much better situation than if you had no idea who ‘Christopher’ was at 1 a.m.,” said Robbie Bradshaw.
One of the panelists says he feels some officers don’t engage the public in conversation: “Even when I attend a city council meeting, these police officers don’t budge their lips to even say good evening.”
Nathan Clark, a 20-year Portsmouth police officer who now serves for the Virginia Marine Police, talked about the fear some officers might have patrolling the streets given the current climate with officers. Clark says much of that fear can be eliminated if people put their hands where officers can see them when asked.
“A gun, knife or anything else is not going to kill you if it doesn’t have a hand wrapped around it,” said Clark.
Police Chief Tonya Chapman was invited to the event, but she did not attend. A spokeswoman for the Portsmouth police department tells 10 On Your Side the department must remain non-partisan, adding the chief declined because Randall is one of the six candidates running for mayor.
Randall says he didn’t expect the chief to speak at the event, but wanted her to listen to the group’s concerns.
The chief has participated in two community walks in recent months as part of a new push to get her officers walking around neighborhoods.
A third community engagement walk is scheduled for Aug. 25 in Craddock. Police will gather at 45 Aston Parkway at 5:30 p.m., according to the department.