Summer surge in gun violence prompting Portsmouth city leaders to take action

PT City Council gun violence meeting (August 10).PNG
Posted at 10:06 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 01:15:43-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - The summer surge in gun violence across Hampton Roads is prompting Portsmouth city leaders to take action. Tuesday night, the city laid out its comprehensive crime plan to curb violence and make neighborhoods safer.

Laquita Reese has been living in Portsmouth all her life, but after more than 30 years and with three young kids, she’s looking to leave. The number one reason: Crime.

“We are scared. Every time I hear a loud noise, I'm shaking because I'm thinking there's somebody shooting again,” Reese said.

Her home in the southside neighborhood is now riddled with bullet holes after she says someone randomly starting shooting on the street three weeks ago, leaving one man dead right outside her doorstep - the gunfire just missing her and her 1-year-old.

That day still haunts her and her children.

“I couldn't sleep. [I’m] still having a hard time sleeping - my kids as well,” she said.

In a seemingly endless series of shootings across Hampton Roads this summer, Portsmouth city leaders are stepping up, discussing ways to curb violence and make neighborhoods safer.

City Manager Angel Jones laid out her crime prevention plan during Tuesday’s council meeting. She says the problems won’t be solved overnight and added they can’t do it alone.

“We got to throw out the old playbooks of the past and look at how we can partner with our community, our stakeholders, our business community and figure out strategies for how we move forward,” Jones said.

The crime index NeighborhoodScout shows that 99% of U.S. cities are safer than Portsmouth. City leaders say the core issues of crime center around poverty, unemployment, low self-esteem and alcohol and drug abuse.

Jones says they’re working on long-term solutions now, including implementing a mentorship program and other prevention and intervention programs.

“We are currently taking ideas; we're working with our stakeholders. We're meeting with civic organizations. We're meeting with other nonprofits. We're doing things right now," Jones said. "We have to ensure that we're creating workforce development programs. We have to work with our school system to ensure that we're building in as a part of their education system - how do we identify those issues, involve the parents?”

But Reese and many others fear that might not happen fast enough.

“Something needs to happen, now and for them to try to figure out what's going on now because people are still dying left and right. I just lost four classmates within days, and people are still getting shot within days, so for y'all to say you're all doing something, what are y'all doing because I don't see y'all doing anything?”

Related: Frustrated Portsmouth residents press city council on plan to crack down on gun violence

The city says the police force is being stretched thin and that it’s working on hiring more officers to get more boots in neighborhoods and help keep guns out of the wrong hands.

As far as funding the crime prevention programs, city leaders said they’re working on that. CFO Mimi Terry said they're currently meeting with organizations for potential partnerships and are hoping to get state and federal grants. Terry said since the comprehensive plan is in the early stages, there is no estimated cost yet.