PORTSMOUTH, Va. - A Portsmouth neighborhood had a strong police presence Thursday, but the officers weren’t responding to an emergency call. Police were in the Churchland Forest Apartments to boost community engagement.
The walk comes as an effort to boost trust and transparency among the community.
"I saw cars coming from everywhere. I was like, 'Something might have jumped off.' I think it’s good for the public and young kids to see police out here," Owen Merritt, a resident in the Churchland Forest Apartments, said.
"We need to engage with our community on a positive note. Most of the time, they see us, they call us for an emergency. They call us for something negative. This is a chance to have conversation that are positive," Portsmouth Police Chief Renado Prince tells News 3 reporter Leondra Head.
Seven people have died in senseless gun violence in Portsmouth since 2022 began. The chief says these community walks have led to tips being reported in crimes.
"We were doing an engagement walk, and somebody walked up to one of the officers and said, ‘Here, I want you to have this bag of chips.’ The officer is like, "no, I’ve eaten.’ They were like, ‘No... I really want you to have these bag of chips.’ The officer finally said, 'OK,' and he took the bag of chips and he walked off, and there was a note attached to the bag of chips that listed a suspect in a shooting. People don’t want to give that information - we understand that," Chief Prince said.
In these cases, Chief Prince says it's easier for residents to relay information to police.
"It’s a chance for us to get a pulse on what’s going on in the community. Let's say if someone was selling drugs out here. This is a good chance for somebody to say, 'Hey, that house over there is selling drugs.’"
Merritt believes these community walks will reduce crime in the Churchland Forest Apartments.
"[People are] trying to get in your cars. The other night, they came and pulled the handle on my door. My neighbor, she had her car parked in front of the rent office, and they busted her window out of her car," he said.
The Portsmouth Fire Department also engaged with community members during the walk.
This was the city's first community walk this year. The police department says they plan to do a community walk every month in a different neighborhood.