Police chief, activist express different views on protests

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Portsmouth’s top cop is sounding off on the impact of peaceful protests. Those demonstrations have been fueled by controversial encounters between citizens and officers.

Police Chief Tonya Chapman says this type of expression, where protesters blocked High Street Sunday, is strapping the force’s resources. Demonstrators say it’s the only way to be heard.

One dozen people spent Sunday evening protesting in Portsmouth.

Officers first talked to the organizers in a high school parking lot before escorting them down the street. That’s something the police chief says they negotiated.

“We laid the ground rules out. I was going to allow them to walk down High Street, but the key was they could not block Effingham,” Chapman said.

Since they knew of the protest plans, Chief Chapman says they were prepared, although they didn’t know how large the crowd would be.

According to a department spokeswoman, 13 officers plus seven members of the command staff were there.

“Every community is only one day away from a Charlotte event… because there’s always a propensity for violence,” Chapman said.

However, the accommodation comes with concern.

“The city has a limited amount of resources and if I have to pay officers to keep our city safe, then other city entities are not getting the benefit of those resources,” Chapman said.

Activist and co-founder of the Coalition for Black Americans, Rocky Hines, says they protested in solidarity with people across the country, upset about deadly officer-involved shootings of black men.

“We want accountability. We want equality and we want justice,” he said.

He says Portsmouth policy changes would prevent protests. Hines told 10 On Your Side’s Brandi Cummings during an interview the specific policy changes include wanting:

  • A new body camera policy that includes citizen input
  • Internal investigations completed on officers involved in shooting citizens
  • The Department of Justice to be involved in investigating officer-involved shootings

Hines told Cummings, “Those resources should be put into place to implement those policies so that we don’t have to protest. I don’t think anyone wants to protest. No one wants to have to do it, but when things take place, direct action is really how we came to Sunday to have a conversation with the police department.”

“I can’t speak to what happened prior to February 22, prior to my arrival. I can only speak to what we’re doing going forward and how I’m holding officers accountable,” Chapman said.

Chief Chapman told Cummings she wants to keep building a positive relationship between the community and the police knowing that it takes time and she may not please everyone.

“We have to find common ground and we have to move forward on what we have right now in today’s times,” she said.

Both the activist and the chief say Sunday’s protest was positive.

Hines says they are planning an event where the public can speak with the police department in a formal setting.